This morning activists and organisers have announced an end to the two year long #BoycottWoolworths campaign. The #BoycottWoolworths campaign was launched in August 2014 by the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P), which includes, among others, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA), BDS South Africa, COSATU, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, MJC, Jamiat Ulama, Wits University PSC, Rustenburg PSF, Kimberley International Solidarity Forum, UJ PSF, Media Review Network, Open Shuhada Street (OSS), Palestine Solidarity Association (PSA), ANC YL, SACP, the YCL, SASCO, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and various other organisations.
The #BoycottWoolworths campaign called for the complete boycott of Woolworths due to its Israeli trade relations. The campaign had enormous successes over the last two years. However, having achieved several goals of the campaign (some listed below) we have now revisited our strategic imperatives and announce the end of the blanket boycott of Woolworths to broaden the campaign to now target all Israeli products in any store. Included in our strategic imperatives, going forward, will be to also ensure that, in line with labelling legislation of the DTI, no falsely-labeled Israeli products are sold in South Africa.
Some achievements and goals:
– The #BoycottWoolworths campaign, unlike any other consumer boycott before it, had the widespread success of bringing the BDS boycott of Israel into people’s homes and lives; it took an abstract concept and made it a real campaign for many families across the length and breadth of South Africa. It involved school pupils taking a stand (click here http://tinyurl.com/hj762qu) to parents adopting family “dinner time resolutions”.
– Another achievement of the campaign was the undertaking, and subsequent affirmation by Woolworths at its recent AGM, that it will not purchase any Israeli goods from the occupied Palestinian territories.
– In a first for South Africa, activists also turned to large scale shareholder activism having bought several individual shares in the company, as well as convincing larger shareholders to lend campaigners their AGM proxies. The allowed activists to attend two Woolworth AGM’s and take the company to task on various issues including its trade with Israel and other related issues such as labour exploitation by the company and local procurement (click here http://tinyurl.com/h3uabgk or here http://www.iol.co.za/business/companies/woolworths-directors-grilled-at-agm-1953166)
– The campaign also exposed Woolworths for its false labelling of Israeli products which led to a national industry-wide investigation by the Consumer Commission (http://www.fin24.com/Companies/Retail/Woolworths-complaint-sparks-label-trade-probe-20151029).
– The campaign saw some of the best from activists and community members in the form of creative protest like regular flashmobs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Y-oHEw61U&list=PL_FuAw3qkivow_Li9JWKSI-OhlmU21A68&index=4 ) and till-jams (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local/South-Coast-Fever/Till-jam-protest-at-Woolworths-20150902) to the Pharrell Williams spoof video that went viral on various online platforms (http://citizen.co.za/video_of_the_day/pharrell-williams-boycottwoolworths-spoof-video-goes-viral/).
– The campaign (and through it, the boycott of Israel) received widespread media attention, locally and internationally, including coverage in, among others, The New York Times, Rolling Stones Magazine, Sunday Times, City Press, Business Day, The Star & Argus (http://www.bdssouthafrica.com/post/woolworths-is-keeping-questionable-company/) as well as by TV stations including SABC, ETV, ANN7, Al Jazeera and various others (some mainstream TV and radio stations ran hourly updates during certain #BoycottWoolworths events). Several radio stations, online blogs and other media outlets also covered the campaign (sometimes in a satirical, tongue and cheek ways: www.zanews.co.za/zanews-microsite/2014/08/13/good-luck-boycotting-woolworths
– the campaign and the boycott of Israel managed to get into virtually all media spaces). It had tremendous success on social media from hilarious tweets and posters to serious FaceBook debates and Instagram images. – The #BoycottWoolworths campaign was also subject of various academic studies, including one by a pro-Israeli researcher who found, through a survey of Woolworths customers that formed part of his research, that “80% of respondents said they know who the BDS are, and 85% knew about the protests and boycott held against Woolworths by the BDS.” (http://iiespace.iie.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11622/89/). The company and campaign was successfully used to raise awareness about the BDS movement, boycott of Israel and plight of the Palestinian people.
– The #BoycottWoolworths campaign and Israel boycott also received support from various South African Government Ministers, religious leaders, artists, movie stars (http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/entertainment/2014/10/04/soapie-star-joins-woolies-boycott), well known personalities and anti-apartheid stalwarts including liberation struggle icons such as Denis Goldberg, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ahmed Kathrada, Issu Chiba among others (http://www.news24.com/Archives/City-Press/Denis-Goldberg-endorses-Woolworths-boycott-over-Israel-20150429 and here http://www.kathradafoundation.org/news-item/struggle-stalwart-pickets-against-israel-outside-woolworths)
– Due to its trade with Israel and negative publicity from the #BoycottWoolworths campaign (which became a brand in itself), Woolworths also suffered brand damage and at its height, according to a professional media report: “three out of every ten articles about Woolworths (outside of Twitter) referred to the boycott [of the company]”. According to a branding and advertising expert: “damage has been done to the retailer’s international reputation.” https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/adri-nieuwhof/south-africa-retailer-woolworths-takes-israel-boycotters-court
– The company also suffered through shop closures because of major and regular #BoycottWoolworths protests (http://tinyurl.com/zoa3csc), sit-ins, legal costs, costs of hiring private investigators to “spy” on activists (http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/spies-infiltrated-bds-campaign-1955960), management fees for companies like Brunswick, management of the negative PR during the visit of multi-Grammy award winning international hip hop artist Pharrell Williams and the cost of the partnership with the artist as an attempt to counter the #BoycottWoolworths campaign, the cost of negative impact of protests (one protest resulted in damage, according to Woolworths itself, to the tune of R250 000) and the millions of lost sales from campaign supporters who withdrew their purchases from the chain – at a certain period, according to a survey and report by a Wits University academic, the company was losing R8 million a month (http://ewn.co.za/2014/11/24/Woolies-lost-R8m-due-to-boycott).
– The largest shareholder of the company, the Public Investment Corporation(PIC), after involvement and calls from several public sector unions (click here http://www.fin24.com/Companies/Retail/unions-threaten-pic-woolworths-on-israel-trade-20151125), has also launched its own investigations into the company’s trade with Israel among other issues. Dr Daniel Matjila CEO of Public Investment Corporation, has commented on the #BoycottWoolworths campaign that:
“The PIC adheres to the highest standards of good corporate governance and strives to contribute meaningfully to socio-economic transformation through shareholder activism. We have met with organizers of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign and we agreed with many of the items discussed. We also had fruitful discussions with Woolworths management regarding their procurement practices. The campaign emphasised the need for transparency and thorough environmental, social and governance analysis into investee companies, including an understanding of supply chain practices. The PIC maintains that returns on investments cannot be achieved at the expense of future generations and we remain committed to ensure that our investment strategies focus on investee companies with strong legal, ethical and moral probity.”
We are grateful for the PIC’s principled position and investigations.
After a considered internal review and analysis of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign the NC4P has collectively resolved to conclude this campaign. In the two years since the inception of the campaign we have achieved most of our aims which included, among other things, bringing more widespread attention to the issue of unlawful and inhuman Israeli Apartheid policies, building the Palestinian BDS boycott movement and solidifying the critical importance of boycotting Israel in all sectors (including its products). We are now turning to expanding the consumer part of the BDS campaign in South Africa in a different way by focusing on the general boycott of all Israeli products. For these, among other reasons, the umbrella group which launched the #BoycottWoolworths campaign, the NC4P, has resolved to conclude the #BoycottWoolworths campaign on its second anniversary.
The #BoycottWoolworths campaign was a bold move in that it was the first comprehensive consumer boycott in the history of South Africa since 1994. There were many who supported the campaign and the achievements were important to the ongoing struggle in solidarity with Palestinians. We learned a lot from the campaign and hope to use that knowledge in our future campaigns and the struggle for a free Palestine.
The failure to respond to human rights activists led to millions wasted because of both corporate arrogance and a deliberate decision to choose Israel over the brand’s image, profits and commitment to human rights (http://prconfession.blogspot.co.za/2016/03/boycott-woolworths.html). Corporations and companies cannot continue to profit from doing business with Israel without financial and other consequences (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/06/could-israel-billion/).
We thank each and every community member, organization, association, activist and supporter who joined us in the various actions and events but also in the simple task of respecting the boycott and educating other family and friends to refrain. You were the strength, muscle and power of the campaign and the reason for the above achievements. Finally, the NC4P understands and accepts that many activists may never return to Woolworths.
We again reiterate our humbleness to members of the community and public who joined the campaign. We have setup an online blog for members of the public to leave behind one’s personal or family’s story from the #BoycottWoolworths campaign and how it touched your lives (click here: http://www.bdssouthafrica.com/boycottwoolworths-share-your-experience/). As we build from the successes of each campaign – onward to a Free Palestine!
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