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Woolworths unscathed from boycott – brand expert

Aug 19 2016 16:05
Lameez Omarjee

Protesters gather outside Woolworths headquarters in Cape Town earlier today as the clothing retailer held its annual general meeting.(Pic: Matthew le Cordeur)

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WOOLWORTHS HOLDINGS LIMITED [JSE:WHL]

Last traded 52
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Last Updated: 01/01/0001 at 12:00. Prices are delayed by 15 minutes. Source: McGregor BFA

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Johannesburg – Woolworths did not incur any “reputational harm” as a result of the two year #BoycottWoolworths campaign, according to Solly Moeng, brand reputation management adviser and CEO of DonValley.

In an emailed response to Fin24, Moeng said that the campaign, which called for the complete boycott of Woolworths [JSE:WHL] due to its Israeli trade relations, did not have a “material impact” on the retailer’s bottom line.

“Core Woolworths shoppers neither paid attention to, nor did they adhere to calls to boycott their favourite retail brand,” he said.

The National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P) launched the #BoycottWoolworths campaign in August 2014 to raise awareness of human rights violations in the apartheid state. It was endorsed by organisations such as the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA), Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) South Africa, Cosatu, ANC Youth League and South African Students Congress (Sasco).

Read: Activists abandon #BoycottWoolworths campaign

Activists said on Friday they were ending the #BoycottWoolworths campaign to broaden the campaign to target all Israeli products in any store. In a statement the NC4P said that the campaign had “enormous successes”, including exposing Woolworths for “false labelling” of Israeli products, which led to an investigation by the Consumer Commission.

The NC4P also claimed that some Woolworths stores had to be closed during major protests and that one protest cost the company close to R250 000 in lost sales.

However, Moeng said that the retailer had adhered to the Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti's) recommended specifications on the labelling of products coming from places like Israel and the occupied territories.

“Woolworths would have suffered reputational harm if it were proved to have gone against the law on the import of a handful of products from Israel or in colluding to hide their origin, something that was never the case,” he said.

“Woolworths can therefore not be compared with MTN, for instance, which suffered huge reputational and financial harm after disregarding legal government directives in Nigeria,” he added.

Referring back to a statement published on its website in August 2014, Woolworths responded that the retailer “does not and has never sourced” products from occupied territories. “We have not changed our stance on the issue in any way,” the retailer said in an emailed response on Friday.

Woolworths confirmed that the National Consumer Commission was conducting an industry-wide investigation into labelling and trade descriptions with retailers. “The NCC Commissioner confirmed that the NCC’s investigation is not into false Israeli labelling by Woolworths.”

Downplaying the NC4P’s achievements, Moeng said that if the campaign was to be “truly successful”, it should be targeted at government, which regulates imports and all South African companies which deal with Israel.

“Hand-picking just one company to isolate from the broader SA corporate/retail sector was both short-sighted and unhelpful.”

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