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Activist group welcomes new Woolies CEO, but...

Sep 04 2015 15:15

Cape Town - Activist group BDS SA this week welcomed two recent moves by Woolworths, but cautioned the retailer against "window-dressing" and "hypocrisy".

The group - Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS SA) - has been waging a long-standing protest action against Woolworths, because it wants the retailer to stop stocking products from Israel. Woolworths has consistently maintained that it sources 95% of its food locally and that the South African government authorises trade with Israel.

Woolworths’ group CEO Ian Moir announced this week that Zyda Rylands had been appointed in the new role of CEO for Woolworths in SA and Africa.

"Woolworths SA has appointed a black female as its CEO. This is a welcome move in a country where senior positions in our corporate sector is unfairly dominated by white males.

"Secondly, we welcome the move by Woolworths to remove sweets from its checkout aisles - now it needs to remove its Israeli products, especially agricultural products," BDS said in its statement.

At the same time BDS claimed that not ending relations with Israel exposes Woolworths "to the risk of being guilty of window-dressing and hypocrisy".

BDS said in its statement that some people suggested Rylands, "being black and Muslim, should be a good thing for the BDS movement’s call for Woolworths to end its Israeli ties". BDS said it regarded this kind of view as “a racist assumption”.

"We will treat Rylands the exact same as we would treat any other CEO of a company that has trade relations with apartheid Israel - guilty until she and the company does the right thing. Until then, the #BoycottWoolworths campaign stands," BDS said.

READ: The three Woolworths products causing the boycott

In reaction to the BDS statement, Moir told Fin24 the company has no political affiliations and is guided by government and the trade guidelines of the Department of Trade and Industry.

"We respect the constitutional rights of organisations to express their views lawfully without infringing the right of others and our customers’ right to make individual purchasing choices," he said.

Moir emphasised that Woolworths' stance regarding BDS remains unchanged.

"We clearly label every product’s country of origin. We only source food abroad –  in accordance with government regulations – when local products are out of season. Less than 0.1% of our food is sourced from the Middle East.”

On Rylands' appointment, Moir said her career of 20 years at Woolworths spans many parts of the business. Recently, under her leadership, Woolworths Foods has transformed into a sizeable foods business with a reputation for quality, innovation and sustainability.

September last year that it was only targeting Woolworths as it would be too expensive to also target other large retailers.


READ: Robust corporate reputation can be a great firewall


bds  |  woolworths holdings  |  ian moir  |  retail
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