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BDS Woolworths

This month’s #BoycottWoolworths National Day of Action (taking place on 25 October) is the last national day of action before Woolworths has its shareholder AGM on 26 November. The growing #BoycottWoolworths campaign will probably be a main discussion point at the upcoming AGM, let’s make this month’s #BoycottWoolworths National Day of Action the biggest ever yet! 

Early in August a call for the complete boycott of Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by BDS South Africa, COSATU, ANC Youth League, MJC and various others including the National Coalition 4 Palestine  (a coalition consisting of more than 30 organizations, trade unions and other groups). However, withdrawing consumer support from Woolworths is just one part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Join BDS South Africa and various South African civil society groups that have called for a monthly “National Day of Action” on the last Saturday of each month as part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign.


To date, the management of Woolworths has arrogantly refused to meet so that we can resolve this issue. Instead, Woolworths has tried to deflect attention (see side column), embarked on major “sales” and even threatened to sue BDS South Africa. Due to the refusal by Woolworths to resolve this issue we are forced to partake in protest actions beyond calling on members of the public to boycott the store. Click here for more information on the #BoycottWoolworths campaign as well as to download flyers, videos, banners and other campaign material.


What is Woolworths relationship with Israel: Woolworths sources products and produce amounting to 12 million rands from Israeli companies in violation of the international BDS consumer boycott. Amongst other items, Woolworths imports Pretzels, Couscous, Matzos, Coriander, Figs, Litchis, Plums and Mangoes from Israel. According to the human rights organization, Who Profits (click here), almost all of Israel’s agricultural companies have illegal operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

What has Woolworths response been to the boycott:
To date Woolworths has refused to make available the Israeli suppliers that it sources its products from. Sadly, Woolworths has also refused to meet with BDS South Africa and organizers of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. However, sources from within Woolworths have indicated that the company is feeling the impact of the campaign both at a PR level and on a financial level with some observers claiming an impact of 4% on sales.

Why boycott Woolworths over other retailers: Similar to the 1980s anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement selects campaigns after careful analysis and strategic considerations. Several retailers in South Africa have some sort of trade relationship with Israel. We can try to boycott all of them but this is a daunting task that has a slim chance of having a concrete impact. Thus we focus our campaigns and move from one target to another as we reach our goals.  Selecting Woolworths, for example, does not mean that other South African supermarkets do not stock Israeli products.

Part of the reason for campaigning and calling on Woolworths to end their Israeli trade relations is because Woolworths tries to sell itself as an “ethical company” that sources responsibly. Surely the ethics that Woolworths claims to support include not trading with companies of a country like Israel that routinely abuses human rights? We are calling on Woolworths to respect the Palestinian boycott of Israel, take the lead and end its trade relations with Israel and set an example for other South African retailers.


No, the boycott of Woolworths should not end because of the ceasefire in Gaza. The boycott of Woolworths was not only called for because of the attacks on Gaza. The boycott of Woolworths was called for due to Woolworths refusing to terminate its relations with Israeli companies. Such relations are in clear violation of the international boycott of Israel called by for by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

There may be a ceasefire in Gaza but the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people is an ongoing oppression. The Israeli violation of international law is also ongoing. Palestinians have called on peace and justice loving people to boycott Israel as a form of non-violent pressure to end Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinian people. See below for more information.


Is it a blanket boycott of Woolworths or just Israeli products they sell:  The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott. The issue is not with the Israeli tomato or avocado in a Woolworths store – it is with Woolworths as a company having a trade relationship with Israel. Out of principle we boycott all Israeli products – regardless of which retailer is stocking them. However, BDS and the boycott of Israel is modelled on the successful 1980s boycott of Apartheid South Africa which included a boycott (out of principle) of all goods from Apartheid South Africa but also, as a tactic, called on international companies not to trade with Apartheid South Africa. We are calling on Woolworths to do what other companies did during Apartheid and end its trade relations with Israel until Israel respects international law and human rights.

Is the boycott of Woolworths Food Stores or all its stores including clothes:  The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott of all Woolworths stores and products.

Does the boycott just involve refraining from purchasing at Woolworths:  No, it involves actively writing to the store, organizing pickets, protests and taking other actions.


Woolworths is maintaining its trade with Israel (for produce that is available elsewhere) and ignoring the requests by its consumers, South African civil society and several Government Ministers. This approach by the management of Woolworths is tarnishing the image of the company and jeopardizing the share price of the firm (which has dropped consistently since the #BoycottWoolworths campaign). This will certainly be deemed to be reckless management when Woolworths could have, firstly, met with BDS South Africa and secondly, resolved this issue by sourcing its products either locally or from other countries. Woolworths is coming across as unconcerned and indifferent to customer retention.

Woolworths claims to “believe in the principle of responsible citizenship.” However, importing products from Israeli companies in violation of the international boycott of Israel called by the indigenous Palestinians contradicts this principle.


It would seem that Woolworths is not interested in aligning itself with human rights and ethical, responsible business practices. Woolworths has tried to suggest that it is following government policy. However, government policy is the minimum that a company should respect; we would expect a company such as Woolworths to go beyond the minimum when it comes to respecting human rights and the wishes of consumers.

If Woolworths was a company based in, say, the UK, during apartheid, would Woolworths have adopted the position that it is “apolitical” (as it has done recently regarding Israel)? Would Woolworths not have respected the South African liberation struggle’s call for a boycott of Apartheid South African goods (regardless of whether the UK Government had officially called for that boycott or not)?

In a statement issued on 30 July 2014, Woolworths defended its sourcing of products from Israeli companies stating that it “has no political affiliations.” Buying from Israel, when many other markets are available (including local South African markets), is an endorsement of that country’s practices. Imagine buying from Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s and claiming to be “apolitical”.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has famously said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.


Israel is increasingly being viewed as a regime guilty of practicing Apartheid (click here). In 2005, with Israel’s occupation, human rights abuses, violations of international law and illegal Israeli settlement activity increasing, Palestinians (inspired by the successful boycott and isolation of Apartheid South Africa) called on the international community to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and its companies until Israel complies with international law and respects human rights.

The Palestinian-led and internationally-backed BDS campaign is a practical, non-violent, goal-orientated, focused and strategic campaign to hold the State of Israel accountable to international law and human rights. The BDS campaign is also increasingly supported by (progressive) Israelis. The international isolation of Israel it is hoped will lead to the necessary conditions for a just peace to be negotiated – similar to what occurred in South Africa and brought about a democratic country for all our people


BDS has reached a tipping point. In the last few months alone, BDS-related successes include the decision by the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation. This was followed by the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, withdrawing his entire stake (more than 2 billion rands) from a security company (G4S) involved in Israel’s human rights abuses.

Earlier this year the second largest ($200 billion) Dutch pension fund, PGGM, divested from five Israeli banks and a month earlier the largest Danish bank, Danske, blacklisted Israel’s Hapoalim bank. In January the Norwegian sovereign fund, the largest in the world, divested from two Israeli companies that were part of its portfolio.

In July 2014, TESCO, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, decided to stop selling Israeli products originating from the OPT. In July 2013, three major supermarket chains in the Netherlands Aldi, Hoogvliet and Jumbo announced that they will no longer sell products coming from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In April 2012, UK supermarket chains “The Co-op” adopted a complete boycott of Israeli companies. Last year, the South African agricultural company Karsten Farms terminated its relations with Israel’s Hadiklaim in 2013. Earlier this month (October 2014) after sustained protests and campaigning the USA department store chain Macy’s stopped carrying Israeli settlement products of SodaStream, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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