Woolworths files court papers against BDS South Africa

The court action is for the safety of the employees and customers of Woolworths.

Woolworths logo. Picture: Woolworths Holdings Ltd.

JOHANNESBURG - Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions South Africa (BDS SA) has been slapped with court papers by Woolworths as a result of its boycott Woolworths campaign.

BDS against Israel is calling for the retailer to stop importing products from Israel.

On 20 October of this year 57 of the movement's supporters were arrested following a flash protest at a Woolworths store in Killarney Mall in Johannesburg.

Muhammed Desai, coordinator for BDS, says that the organisation thinks it is ridiculous for a multinational corporation such as Woolworths to be taking an activist and human rights organisation to court over a non-violent consumer boycott campaign.

"This serves to show that Woolworths may indeed be feeling the heat of the campaign. It is now using, or as we would say, abusing the courts to end the campaign."

Desai says that the actions of Wooworths are irresponsible and that the company could have easily arranged to meet with the organisation to discuss and resolve the issue.

He claims that the organisation has been pleading to meet with Woolworths for months, but the company has refused these requests. Desai believes the court action will only intensify the campaign.

"Woolworths really doesn't have much to lose by giving up the R12 million worth of trade with Israel. It can easily find local alternatives, suppliers for the fresh produce that it currently buying from Israel and in that process be on the fight side of history," claims Desai.

Meanwhile, Woolworths has released a statement describing the reasons for its actions.

"While we respect the right to protest peacefully and lawfully, the safety of our employees and customers come first.

"For this reason, Woolworths has filed a court application to protect our employees and customers from the increasing unlawful protests inside our store."

Paula Disberry, group girector: retail operations at Woolworths says, "The unlawful protest actions inside our stores have had a profound effect on many of our employees and customers. We respect the right of BDS to protest, but we are seeking to prevent protests inside our stores. "

"Unfortunately their campaign has extended beyond raising awareness and includes actions such as intimidation of customers and employees, restricting access and preventing customers from shopping. Products have also been damaged. The recent statements by BDS to ramp up their protest action has given us no choice but to take legal steps. It is our responsibility to ensure that our customers and employees feel safe in our stores, free of disruption, abuse and intimidation."

The retailer says it has applied for the interdict because the business has a right to trade unhindered and it has a duty to protect employees and customers.