Woolworths’ executives were on Monday forced to entertain questions from shareholders as to its continued trade links with Israeli suppliers, as pro-Palestinian activists used the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) to raise pertinent questions over its refusal to severe ties with the occupying state. Representatives from the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS SA), who are both engaged in a year-long boycott of the retailer, were able attend the meeting having last year bought shares in Woolworths Holdings Limited.
Questions were raised as to alleged false labelling of products, the extent of Woolworths knowledge that its suppliers were based within occupied territories, the ethics of the company, as well as its excessive public relations campaign over the past year, seen by activists as a means to combat the boycott.
“There were several questions raised by the activists who were there and Woolworths really struggled to answer these questions. We challenged the CEO (Ian Moir) because he kept saying there is nothing illegal about it (trade links with Israel). We said this is not about legality, it’s about ethics,” explained Reverend Edwin Arrison, chairperson of the NC4P.
The AGM was also attended by members of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), with Arrison suggesting one of it’s shareholders had attempted to give a different view of the situation than that of the activists.
“Beyond that the shareholders were either quiet or even supporting us. On the whole we actually go support from some of the other shareholders,” he said.
Arrison also suspected Woolworths was feeling the pressure of the boycott campaign. He said the activists were ready to show long term resilience in their pursuit to have the company rethink its selling of what was effectively 0.1% of its trade.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Media Review Network (MRN) also affirmed its support for the BDS boycott campaign against Woolworths, as well as the state of Israel as a whole.
“Although claiming to be an ethical retailer, Woolworths continues to stock products from Israel – an occupying power implementing Apartheid policies against Palestinians. By continuing to trade with Israel, Woolworths is ignoring that country’s continued occupation and theft of Palestinian land and natural resources, the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right to return, detention without trial, and other gross violations of international law,” the statement read.
The MRN also paid recognition to the efforts of the BDS and NC4P activists who attended the AGM.
“They stated loudly and clearly to Woolworths’ management that the retailer cannot adopt a business as usual approach with a regime guilty of such serious human rights violations,” the group added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)