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No Easy Victories: The #BoycottWoolworths Campaign

Your husband’s slippers are wearing out, the kids need winter vests, and your underwear situation is reaching desperation. This #‎BoycottWoolworths‬ thing is far more difficult than we thought, writes Suraya Dadoo

woolies boy


Less than a year ago, South Africans were outraged by Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip. Thousands took to the streets in Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and everywhere in between. And when the #BoycottWoolworths campaign was launched in August last year, no self-respecting Palestinian supporter would be caught dead in Woolies. (And yes, that includes those of you who sent your domestic helper in while you waited in the car!) Nine months later, and the allure of thermal underwear, Malva Pudding, and double-thick cream is irresistible. We’re “dying” without Woolies, and we need to go back. Isn’t this campaign over already?

Woolworths management certainly hopes it is. In a Business Times interview in April, CEO Ian Moir admitted that while a number of groups have issues with Woolworths, “the most damaging attack has come from Palestine solidarity organisations” who have taken on Woolies for their seemingly proud trade links with Israel. With a customer base that has a disproportionately large number (9% according to research), of people who are also assumed supporters of the Palestinian struggle, the campaign is still a headache for Woolworths.

And that’s why it continues. This campaign isn’t just about in-store protests and die-ins. Woolworths has legally suppressed those forms of protest. But what the company cannot silence is money. And if money is power, then a boycott is a potent weapon. And therein lies the crux of the matter: that the most powerful, sustainable form of protest lies within our wallets. This campaign gives South Africans, seeking justice for the Palestinians, a chance to protest – without placards, toyi-toying or marching. We must decide if we are only going to be driven into temporary, feel-good action when we see images of dead Palestinian children in Gaza, or the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank, on our WhatsApp groups, Twitter and Facebook. Or do we want to be engaged in acts of long-term solidarity that can have a real effect against Israel? If it is the latter, then we must be in it for the long haul – like those who fought for our freedom.

In July 1984, eleven young workers from Dunnes Store in Dublin went on strike against the store’s stocking of goods from Apartheid South Africa. When the strike started, their union representative told them it would last for two weeks. He was wrong. Their protest lasted two years and nine months. The protesters were ridiculed as work colleagues and members of the public passed their pickets and abused them on a daily basis. It would have been so easy to just walk away, but they stood strong. They stayed outside the shop for more than two-and-a-half years because of an injustice that was happening to people they had never met more than 10 000 kilometres away. It took 17 years of boycotting and daily protests by the Boycott Barclays movement before the British bank cut ties with Apartheid South Africa. The Boycott Shell campaign lasted almost 15 years, with weekly protests at Shell petrol stations across the Netherlands.

Less than a year in, are we already expecting a victory? Anyone involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement will tell you that there are no easy victories. The Palestinians are forced to be in it for the long haul. That is why we are in it for the long haul. It’s time to punish those who trade with Israel. You can do it now – or you can do it in two years from now when Israel launches another brutal attack on Gaza –  partially funded by Ayrshire milk, mini cupcakes and sheepskin slippers.

Suraya Dadoo is a researcher for Media Review Network – an affiliate of the National Coalition of Palestine (NC4P).

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