Whole Foods Fails Abuse Survivors

By Evelyn Gonzalez '18
Feminism Columnist

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

 Whole Foods ally Marc Gafni was accused of sexual abuse. Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.

 Whole Foods ally Marc Gafni was accused of sexual abuse.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.

The personal stories and accounts of survivors get lost under the weight of a heavy silence when we, as a society, allow those in power to have so much influence over the relevancy and importance of our words. As a result of our reliance on a capitalist system that often thrives on the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable, very few mechanisms exist at the present to protect survivors of abuse if it means that the image of corporations might be damaged in the process. In allowing this to continue, we have created a culture that forces survivors of abuse to speak up; but those that speak up are faced by a society who refuses to listen, reinforcing a damaging culture of violence and injustice.  

On December 25, 2015, The New York Times released a piece on the connection between Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey and sex offender and creator of the nonprofit Center for Integral Wisdom, Marc Gafni. Approximately one month later Sara Kabakov submitted an exclusive to Forward’s online website. In it she detailed her personal account of the sexual and spiritual violation and molestation she faced under the hands of Marc Gafni during the 80’s. Along with Kabakov, several other women, including one of Gafni’s ex-wives chose to come forward with their own descriptions of the violence enacted on them. The similarities in the stories written by these women were striking in that they highlighted the varying ways they were forced into silence by Gafni himself and from their own communities. In this current society, speaking out about one’s past experience, especially against people in positions of power, can often result in a high degree of danger and vulnerability. Gafni’s ex wife, who chose to stay anonymous when she published her story in The Times of Israel about Gafni’s abuses said, “there is also a risk to staying silent, staying safe. 20 years and untold numbers of victims later, I have learned that staying safe can also be risky business.” In exposing the connection between Whole Foods Market and Gafni, the voices of those who are most at risk can be brought to the forefront of the conversation.

The involvement of John Mackey with a known manipulator and sex offender poses a question of ethics that reaches far beyond the idea of “conscious capitalism;” one of the main ideologies that link both companies. On December 29, 2015, Mackey posted a piece on the Whole Foods Market website that tried to absolve his company from the consequences of being affiliated with child molester Marc Gafni by stating that “my involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is conducted strictly in my personal life and does not represent an endorsement or support for either Mr. Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom by Whole Foods Market.” Mackey understood that a tarnished personal image meant nothing for someone who already carried a lot of influence and leverage as a result of owning a multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 company, but that a damaged reputation concerning his business meant a loss of corporate value and profit. Both Mackey’s actions and words up to this point have illustrated his blatant disregard for the safety and well being of Gafni’s victims. His notion of exclusive personal acquaintanceship holds very little truth and illustrates his calculated attempt to distance himself as one of Gafni’s business partners. Mackey has conveniently left out the fact that  he has a stake in Gafni’s company as one of the directors of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom. As Brad Hecht wrote in The Epic Times earlier this year, “as the founder of, primary spokesman for, and emotional leader of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey has a responsibility to immediately and directly address this issue...Whether he is willing to admit it or not, Mackey’s personal actions and associations will have a direct impact on the reputation of Whole Foods Market, and therefore the willingness of customers to support the company he leads.” Beyond the simple negative consequences of his continued relationship with the Center for Integral Wisdom in terms of his business, Mackey and the multitude of others who continue to support Gafni, need to be held accountable for their deliberate complicity in Gafni’s long and possibly continued history of abuse.  

In keeping individuals like Gafni and Mackey culpable for their actions we make certain that when survivors speak out society is actively listening.

Here is a call to action link to the petition authored by more than 100 rabbis directed towards Whole Foods