BDS turns to shareholder activism in Woolies fight

Representatives of a group of shareholders have spoken out against the firm's refusal to meet BDS activists.

Woolworths shareholders at a briefing regarding the BDS campaign on 18 November 2014. Picture:  Govan Whittles/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group in South Africa has now turned to shareholder activism in a bid to force retailer Woolworths to end its trade relations with Israeli-based companies.

Representatives of a group of shareholders at Woolworths today spoke out against the company's refusal to meet BDS activists and called on it to halt the court order against the group over a protest at one of its Cape Town shops.

The Woolworths-Israeli trade agreement is worth about R12 million, and the activists want it cancelled in support of the people of Palestine.

BDS coordinator Muhammed Desai says shareholder activism represents a new frontier for the organisation.

He says they are hopeful it will be more effective than previous campaigns.

"There have been various AGMs where members of the BDS movement have been attending. We've now got G4s to announce that it will withdraw from Israel come three years. So the shareholder activism route is proving to be successful."

Desai says BDS has bought about 50 Woolworths shares in order to gain access to its annual general meeting, while the other representatives would not disclose how much they collectively owned, only saying it was substantial.

The group wants Woolworths to end its trade agreement with Israel and says it has decided to focus specifically on the retail giant to set a precedent for other companies in South Africa.

But the retail giant says it has responded to all of BDS's correspondence and maintains that it will not ban any country from trading with its stores.

It has also denied refusing to meet and says it has been discussing the campaign with the group's members for months.