Advocacy Groups to Protest at Whole Foods CEO Speech, Urge "Sexual Violence Accountability"

Advocacy groups are organizing a protest at a speech by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in San Francisco. Leaders urge Mackey to disavow spiritual teacher Marc Gafni. The New York Times reported Mackey's association with Gafni, a former rabbi accused of sexual abuse. The Washington Post reported previous protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles. Mackey declared loyalty to Gafni.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

A consortium of advocacy groups is organizing a protest at a speech by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in San Francisco on February 28, urging "sexual violence accountability."

The lead organizing group Peaceful Hearts Foundation was founded by Matthew Sandusky, one of six adopted children of Jerry Sandusky (former Penn State football coach and convicted pedophile). 

John Mackey, Whole Foods Market and Conscious Capitalism boards of directors have an opportunity to reach millions with an important message. Instead of maintaining the societal norm of silence around these issues, I would like to see them take a stand against child sexual abuse publicly — take a leadership role. Mackey should disavow Marc Gafni.

Matthew Sandusky, Founder & Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Mackey is the scheduled keynote speaker at HigherPurpose17: Conscious Capitalism Bay Area Chapter Conference​. He is a founding board member of nonprofit Conscious Capitalism, Inc.​, and co-author of the book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

Advocacy leaders are calling for Mackey to disavow Marc Gafni, a former New York rabbi accused of sexual abuse. Gafni is currently leader of California nonprofit think tank The Center for Integral Wisdom.

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

"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 Times' story precipitated a wave of follow-up items.

The New York Daily News reported Gafni denying allegations of abusing two girls in the 1980s, then ages 13 and 16; he stated they were willing partners.

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

More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders undersigned a petition to Whole Foods: "Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again," citing, "many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent."

Mackey silently vacated his position as board chair of Gafni's nonprofit in April, according to the Forward.

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 in June, declaring his loyalty to Gafni, as reported by the Forward:

“Loyalty and the presumption of innocence are important values to me, so I will not join those who are condemning him,” Mackey said. “I am, at once, presuming Marc’s innocence and firmly standing against what he’s accused of.”

Mackey's Whole Foods Market Blog says his involvement with Gafni is "strictly a personal relationship."

In November, soon after news of Donald Trump's vulgar brag of sexual assault made headlines, Gafni tweeted, "Donald Trump is an Outrageous Lover."

In December 2016, 130 advocates, including leaders from Faculty Against Rape (FAR) and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), signed an open letter to board members of Whole Foods And Conscious Capitalism, urging Mackey to disavow Gafni.

Matthew Sandusky said: 

“John Mackey, Whole Foods Market and Conscious Capitalism boards of directors have an opportunity to reach millions with an important message. Instead of maintaining the societal norm of silence around these issues, I would like to see them take a stand against child sexual abuse publicly — take a leadership role. Mackey should disavow Marc Gafni."

Industry experts, business and ethics professors have criticized Mackey's association with Gafni, noting potential ramifications for the two corporations he leads.

Sandra J. Sucher, Professor of Management Practice, Joseph L. Rice, III Faculty Fellow, Harvard Business School, and author, The Moral Leader: Challenges, Tools, and Insights, said:

“Mackey’s fellow board members of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism have a legal duty of care to act in and protect the best interests of their organizations. They need to ask how Mackey’s association with Gafni may affect the reputation of the entities.”

Gafni has never been charged with a crime. Protest co-organizers the Stop Abuse Campaign and PAC Protect NY Kids are lobbying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act. The proposed legislation would eliminate statutes of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse in New York state, where Gafni's accusers allege they were abused. 

The New York advocacy groups have authored a petition to state lawmakers, pushing for the bill's enactment, garnering more than 69,000 signatures.

Andrew Willis, CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign said:

"New York state's statute of limitations laws, some of the strictest in the nation, protect sexual predators and not the children they prey on. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse continue to be silenced by New York's laws. The Child Victims Act allows survivors to hold their abusers responsible and protect today's children. Whole Foods CEO Mackey's statement of loyalty to Gafni, who is protected by statutes of limitations, perpetuates the culture of enabling. Mackey should disavow his friend."

Scheduled speakers at the protest include Nikki DuBose, a former model turned author and advocate, and board member of Peaceful Hearts Foundation. She said:

"I will always defend children. Adults can make the decision to fight the fight with me, or become like the abusers themselves when they don't stand up for what's right."

Speakers also include crisis counselor Julie Golston from Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR). The organization provided this disclaimer: 

"The content in this announcement may bring up feelings or memories for survivors of sexual violence. If you'd like to speak confidentially with a certified crisis counselor, call the Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) 24-hour hotline at 510-845-7273."


Whole Foods CEO & Sexual Violence Accountability

When: Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM PST

Where: Omni Hotel, 500 California Street, San Francisco, California 94104

Source: Peaceful Hearts Foundation

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About Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Peaceful Hearts Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Matthew Sandusky and his wife Kim. Provide survivor-informed advocacy, preventing sexual victimization of children through education, awareness raising, and support services.

Peaceful Hearts Foundation



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