Boycott Watch  
August 31, 2009
Whole Foods Boycotted for Expressions of Free Speech
Summary: Boycotting free speech is anti-American
(Revision of August 26, 2009 article)

    When Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey's Op-Ed titled 'The While Foods Alternative to ObamaCare' appeared in The Wall Street Journal August 12, 2009, it received considerable attention, but few would have anticipated the establishment of a boycott as a result, yet that is exactly what happened. Within a week of the opinion piece's posting, websites were created promoting a boycott of Whole Foods for one reason - some people did not like the opinion of the author.

    This boycott is troubling to Boycott Watch because this boycott is about the content of free speech of one person and has nothing to do with the company itself, the products sold or services provided. The boycott is about one thing - silencing the free speech of someone who some people do not agree with about a political issue. This great nation was built on respecting the free speech of others, including people you do not agree with. Boycotts such as these only have one purpose - to scare people into being silent about political issues, and that is absolutely against the principals this great nation was both founded and built on. Facilitating free speech is a founding principal which has made this great nation what it is. We should be celebrating people's rights to express their opinion, not silence people.

    And that is exactly what happened - Whole Foods as a company distanced itself from the personal comments of their CEO, yet the boycott is still being pushed, making this an open ended boycott, meaning there is nothing Whole Foods can do to satisfy the boycotters. This boycott is not attacking the content of the message, just the messenger. Giving into the boycotters, therefore, was the absolute wrong move for several reasons, first being that Whole Foods never had an agreement or target in mind to satisfy the boycotters, and because it was not about the stores products or services, but rather the opinion of a corporate officer and nobody should ever give up their free speech because someone does not like the content.

    The same political "Progressives" who are promoting this boycott also tend to make the claim that labor and management are equally important in companies. If that were true, then the logical question is why is Ford, for example, not being boycotted if one of their employees expresses a political opinion? The obvious answer is that, once again, this boycott is about silencing the content of the specific free speech the boycotters do not agree with.

    Just because someone is successful does not mean they loose their right to free speech. While President Obama, unions and some companies are promoting what the Wall Street Journal calls ObamaCare, we should be welcoming the opinions and thoughts of all people to help make any legislation the best it can be, not silencing people, especially people like John Mackey who has experience supplying health care to his employees. Additionally, just like cars and screwdrivers have a primary purpose and can be abused to harm people, boycotts are great consumer tools that can also be abused, which is what we see here.

    The Whole Foods situation is a secondary boycott since it is not a boycott of John Mackey, but rather of a business he is affiliated with, regardless of that affiliation. People have the right to offer their opinions separate from their work affiliation. Is Mackey's church being boycotted? The answer is no and it should not be boycotted in this case either.

    This boycott is clearly politically driven, and political actions always have a political counterpart. When John Kerry ran for President for example, there was a call to boycott Heinz Ketchup because of his wife's relationship to that company, causing a "buycott" campaign by Democrats to push people to buy Heinz products as a show of support. Those campaigns got very little traction because ketchup is one item in which people's personal preference will supersede any boycott calls.

    Countering the Whole Foods boycott are a new frontier for the Tea Party activist who are staging "buycotts" in cities such as St. Louis, which is far from the California epicenter of the Whole Foods boycott campaigns. While the "buycott" efforts are small in number at the moment, they did start much later than the original boycott campaigns, so it is too early to judge the results.

    This is not, however, the only boycott Whole Foods is facing. Columnist Debbie Schlussel has raised the boycott flag on Whole Foods over their carrying of products which are made in "Palestine" while not selling products made in Israel. The letter from Whole Foods on Ms. Schlussel's site mentions products made in "Palestine" which is a non-existent country, nor has there ever been a country named "Palestine." To those activists who are upset at this fact, I simply ask if they can name the ruler, currency or any facts of any government of any nation named "Palestine." The fact is that the United Nations may have a "Palestine observer," but there is no nation called "Palestine" recognized by the United States or the United Nations. Making that state declaration indicates that Whole Foods is playing Middle East politics, and that that is not by individual employees - that was in an official correspondence from Whole Foods since it came from an email address from, where as Mr. Mackey's Op-Ed was not sent on Whole Foods stationary. There is a big difference.

    Boycott Watch investigated the charge by Ms. Schlussel that there are no Israeli products on the shelves at Whole Foods while they do carry items made in "Palestine" and were unable to find any Israeli products on their shelves. One item caught our attention though; a certain product which is labeled as made in Israel in other stores is curiously missing the "Made in Israel" statement while in Whole Foods stores. Could Whole Foods be requiring a different version of this one product in order to offer it in their stores? We have been unable to determine the answer at this time so we are continuing our investigation. At the moment we are calling this very curious, but are not ready to make any claims one way or another about Whole Foods and possible compliance with the Arab boycott of Israel, which in this case may or may not constitute illegal compliance with a foreign sanctioned boycott. On her website, Ms. Schlussel also points out that Whole Foods finances Radio Intifada on KPFK radio.One thing is abundantly clear, Whole Foods is in fact playing Middle East politics and some Boycott Watch readers have already told us they are not shopping at Whole Foods Because of Ms. Schlussel's report. As such, Boycott Watch is tracking two completely separate boycotts of Whole Foods.

    This is only the second time we have seen boycotts used to stifle free speech. The first was in November of 2008 when stores were boycotted in San Francisco and other parts of California against people who supported the Proposition Eight ballot initiative which passed, banning gay marriage in California. That boycott included a witch hunt, seeking the names of contributors to boycott the companies they own or even work at. The message was clear - if you donate to these initiatives, you and your employer will be tracked down and financially ruined. Regardless of the content of the free speech, people have the right to express their opinions, and should neither fear expressing their opinions nor be punished as a result.

    A major problem with the Whole Foods boycott over free speech by John Mackey is who will potentially be affected by that boycott, and where. As for the where, the boycott is California centered and probably has zero affect on stores in the Mid-West where Tea Party "buycotts" will bring first time shoppers into Whole Foods stores. Active boycotters will probably come back to Whole Foods in the near future since vegans and other natural foods proponents are not going to change their entire outlook on natural foods because of one political issue, and there are only so many store choices for these consumers.

    The big question is who will potentially be affected by the free speech boycott of Whole Foods, and Boycott Watch believes that will be the Whole Foods employees who have absolutely nothing to do with the boycott. This is because any drop in sales can directly affect the number of hourly employees needed at the stores. In the long run, the Mackey letter will probably be a good thing for Whole Foods since it will being in new politically Conservative customers, especially to their prepared food selection.

    At last check, the Facebook group promoting the boycott has about 31,000 members while Whole Foods has 270 stores. If this is any indication of the effectiveness of this boycott, those numbers translate to a total of 115 boycotters per store on average, and that is hardly enough to have any significant or even noticeable affect on the chains overall sales or profitability. These numbers also indicate the related boycott of Glenn Beck and the secondary boycott of his advertisers is also meaningless.

    Considering the media attention this boycott is getting and the relative low numbers of boycotters, this boycott appears to be more of a media sensation than anything else, meaning it is not only media driven, but even promoted by people in the media who wish to bolster the boycott because of their own personal bias. In the mean time, the boycott numbers thus far indicate the Mackey-inspired boycott is irrelevant.

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