Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) Call to Action: Tell Commonwealth Club to Cancel Whole Foods CEO Event

The New York Times first reported Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's association with spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former rabbi accused of sexual abuse. The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers: "She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her." The Washington Post reported on protests at Whole Foods stores in NYC and LA. Mackey issued a statement of loyalty to Gafni.

A consortium of anti-sexual violence groups led by Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) has issued a public "Call to Action," urging the Commonwealth Club of California to cancel the appearance of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, scheduled for May 1. Mackey is set to appear at the Cubberley Theatre in Palo Alto, in conversation with Alison van Diggelen, host of "Fresh Dialogues, and BBC contributor.​

Advocacy leaders from organizations including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) and Faculty Against Rape (FAR) have called for “sexual violence accountability,” urging Mackey to disavow spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former New York rabbi accused of sexual abuse. Gafni is leader of San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank The Center for Integral Wisdom.​

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's loyalty to Marc Gafni is a perfect example of rape culture -- enabling and protecting predators is the life blood of rape culture. It takes a village to enable a sexual predator, it takes a village to stop rape culture. The Commonwealth Club has an opportunity to be part of the solution. Mackey needs to disavow Gafni, or the Commonwealth Club should cancel his appearance. This is accountability. Ending rape culture is on all of us.

Julie L. Golston, Certified Rape Crisis Counselor, Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator, BAWAR

[UPDATE NOTE: ​Mackey was originally set to appear in conversation with Dr. Dean Ornish. After BAWAR issued this Call to Action, Ornish was replaced by van Diggelen on the program announcement. Neither the Commonwealth Club nor Ornish have responded to inquiries about reasons for his departure from the program. Dean Ornish had asked advocacy groups to stop "heckling" Mackey about his association with Gafni.]

BAWAR Call to Action:

Please urge the Commonwealth Club to hold Whole Foods CEO John Mackey accountable and cancel his appearance. Call 415-597–6700, email CEO Gloria Duffy, gduffy@commonwealthclub.org, or tweet at @cwclub

Mackey's involvement with Gafni was first reported by The New York Times in December 2015. The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers: 

“Mr. Gafni was quoted saying they had been in love. He added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.’” 

The Times also reported: 

“A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni ‘a bold visionary.’ He is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch.”

The New York Daily News reported Gafni denying allegations. According to the News, Gafni stated his underage accusers in the 1980s, then 13 and 16, were willing partners.

More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders undersigned a petition to Whole Foods, citing “many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent, against Marc (Mordechai) Gafni.”

Sara Kabakov identified herself as the then-girl whom Gafni described as "14 going on 35." She came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward: "I Was 13 When Marc Gafni's Abuse Began."

The Washington Post reported on coordinated protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles in May 2016.

Mackey issued a statement of loyalty to Gafni in June. As reported by the Forward, Mackey said:

“I have known Marc Gafni for several years, and he has continued to tell me that he is innocent of the allegations being made about him. Loyalty and the presumption of innocence are important values to me, so I will not join those who are condemning him.”

An undated "Marc Gafni Statement" on the Whole Foods Market Newsroom says Mackey is no longer on the board of directors of Gafni's center.

Mackey's Whole Foods Market Blog was edited in June to say his involvement with Gafni is now "strictly a personal relationship."

In November, soon after Donald Trump's vulgar brag "grab them by the p***y" made headlines, Gafni tweeted: "Donald Trump is an Outrageous Lover."

In December 2016, an open letter from 130 advocates urged "sexual violence accountability," asking Mackey to disavow Gafni. Addressed to board member of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (a business ethics nonprofit organization Mackey founded), the open letter was published by Feminine Collective and signed by advocacy leaders, university professors, and students.

In February 2017, a consortium of advocacy groups organized a protest at Mackey's keynote speech at Conscious Capitalism, Inc. in San Francisco, where the organization is headquartered.

The protest was organized by Peaceful Hearts Foundation (nonprofit founded by Matthew Sandusky, one of six adopted children of former Penn State coach, convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky), the Stop Abuse CampaignProtect NY Kids, and SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the organization featured in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.

Protest speakers included members of RAINN Speakers Bureau, from the country's largest anti-sexual violence organization,  [Watch video: former model, activist Nikki DuBose​ speaks at San Francisco protest]​​​

Business and ethics experts, including professors from Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Emory University, have criticized Mackey's association with Gafni.

Julie L. Golston, Certified Rape Crisis Counselor, Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator at BAWAR said:

"April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's loyalty to Marc Gafni is a perfect example of rape culture -- enabling and protecting predators is the life blood of rape culture. It takes a village to enable a sexual predator, it takes a village to stop rape culture. The Commonwealth Club has an opportunity to be part of the solution. Mackey needs to disavow Gafni, or the Commonwealth Club should cancel his appearance. This is accountability. Ending rape culture is on all of us."

Gafni has never been charged with a crime. According to Andrew Willis, CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign, Gafni is protected by New York state's statutes of limitations laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced his support for the Child Victims Act, proposed legislation to eliminate statutes of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse. A petition to state lawmakers urging passage of the bill has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures.

In an email to the Commonwealth Club, advocacy leaders asked:

"Would the Commonwealth Club be willing to demonstrate its support for survivors of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and its commitment to changing the culture of sexual violence by canceling Mr. Mackey's scheduled appearance?"

BAWAR Call to Action:

Please urge the Commonwealth Club to hold Whole Foods CEO John Mackey accountable and cancel his appearance. Call 415-597–6700, email CEO Gloria Duffy, gduffy@commonwealthclub.org, or tweet at @cwclub

BAWAR is the country's first rape crisis center, founded in 1971.​

Source: Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)

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Categories: Non Profit, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility

Tags: Commonwealth Club, Dean Ornish, John Mackey, Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, Whole Foods


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BAWAR was the first rape crisis center in the country; founded with the two-part goal of establishing a place where survivors of sexual assault could receive quality counseling and advocacy, and providing community education on sexual violence.

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