Johannesburg - Retail stores will not remove Israeli imported products from their shelves, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) said on Wednesday.
The council said in a statement that some of its members, including Shoprite, Massmart, Spar, Woolworths and Pick n Pay, had been approached by customers, sometimes aggressively and in a confrontational manner, to remove products manufactured in Israel from their shelves.
It said it recognised consumers' rights to exercise freedom of choice when purchasing products, and that their products' countries of origin were clearly marked.
“This enables consumers to make informed buying decisions that are aligned to the personal perspectives that they might hold.”
The council said calls for the boycott of the products infringed the retailers' right to free trade.
“There are channels provided by our respective members for complaints and grievances to be lodged if a consumer is dissatisfied with a particular product. This is also contained in the Consumer Protection Act,” the council said.
Earlier, the trade and industry department said there were no plans to impose trade restrictions on Israel amid its conflict with Palestine.
“We have not yet made any assumptions against Israel. It's not government's call,” said department spokesman Sidwell Medupe.
“People in South Africa are free to trade with Israel and Israel is free to trade with South Africa.”
He said South Africa's trade policy was aligned with its foreign policy, recently highlighted by President Jacob Zuma at the US-Africa summit in Washington.
Twice on Monday Zuma took the opportunity to tell the United States what South Africa's position on Gaza was.
Firstly at a US Chamber of Commerce business forum, he said the country was outraged by the “continued violence that is claiming scores of lives of civilians in Palestine”.
Zuma said there would never be a military solution to the problem and urged both sides to sit and talk so that they could arrive at an internationally agreed solution of two states.
At a National Press Club luncheon, he changed his words a bit, also criticising Hamas.
“We are outraged by the killing of civilians by Israel, some in United Nations shelters,” he said at the time.
“We also condemn the killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas.”
The National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) said on Wednesday it was calling for a boycott of all Woolworths stores because the chain had refused to remove Israeli products from its stores.
NC4P spokesman Edwin Arrison said the coalition was made up of the ANC Youth League, the Muslim Judicial Council, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, and other bodies.
“The call to boycott is due to Woolworths's unwavering support for the apartheid state of Israel, and comes after much research and assessment of the status and level of trade between the chain store and the Israeli state,” Arrison said.
He said the coalition would call for boycotts of other companies once it had conducted further research.
Woolworths responded in a statement on Wednesday that it had no political affiliations.
“We respect our customers' right to make individual purchasing choices, which is why we clearly label every product's country of origin and fully comply with government guidelines on products from Israel,” it stated.
The company said that less than 0.1 percent of their food, mostly imported fresh produce, was sourced from Israel.