‘Misguided’ boycott hurts Malaysians more than Israel-linked targets, brands say

Azlam Shah Alias director of government and corporate affairs Tesco Stores Malaysia Bhd. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Azlam Shah Alias director of government and corporate affairs Tesco Stores Malaysia Bhd. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — Boycott campaigns and protests by Malaysians “misguided” by inaccurate information will inflict greater pain on their fellow countrymen than their intended targets, said several brands that have been singled out for their alleged links to Israel.

Angered by Israel’s attacks against Palestine, several Malaysian Muslim organisations are bombarding a number of companies of foreign origins in a month-long campaign, which the brands say are directly affecting the livelihood and lives of their local employees.

“I think what they’re doing right now is more impacting yourself. Because at the end of the day, the suppliers, the tenants, the employees, are all sourcing products locally,” Tesco Stores Malaysia Bhd’s Azlam Shah Alias told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

Azlam, who is the director of government and corporate affairs for the British hypermart chain, said Tesco Malaysia employs around 11,000 people with Bumiputera making up 73 per cent of the total compared to its expatriate employees who numbered fewer than 20.

He warned that the chain of impact won’t stop there as the retail giant deals with around 3,000 local suppliers, and nearly 15,000 tenants in its stores here.

While Tesco Malaysia has reported that none of its staff has been harassed, or were pressured to quit their jobs following the hostile campaign, American fast food franchise McDonald’s is already feeling the heat.

Its Malaysian master franchise holder, Golden Arches Restaurants Sdn Bhd, has counted over 50 demonstrations against McDonald’s Malaysia, with verbal abuses heaped against its crew members and its outlets nationwide vandalised prompting the employees to file nearly 30 complaints with the police.

McDonald’s Malaysia managing director Stephen Chew said the company had to an appeal to the public recently, after finding out that some of the protests and rallies have “crossed the line” and affected the safety and emotions of its 12,000 staff — which were 95 per cent locals.

In the appeal distributed to the media following a “National Boycott McD Day”, Chew said that Malaysians “don’t need any more hurt” in the period of healing after two airline disasters hit the nation.

“We’re in 120 countries. It’s a sad fact that we’re the only country that has been being boycotted this way. [For example], it has not happened in the Middle East at all,” he told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

“We really empathise with what’s happening in the region and the lives lost. We feel very bad about that. And we respect the fact that people want to boycott.”

Chew said the company deals with around 50 local suppliers, including Mac Food Services Malaysia Sdn Bhd, which he said has become one of the biggest halal-certified products for McDonald’s outlets worldwide.

McDonald’s Malaysia said it is unfair to link the local company to Israel just because its US-based parent, McDonald’s Corp, is part of a matching gift fund with charity organisations, one of which happened to be the Jewish United Fund (JUF).

A matching gift fund refers to a programme in the US, where an American company has to match the amount of donation made by its employees, as part of a philanthropy campaign.

“A lot of people failed to remember that JUF was just one among many, thousands of organisations. We know for a fact that there are Islamic charities which benefited from the matching gift fund as well,” said Wan Mohd Zam Wan Embong, chairman of McDonald’s Malaysia’s internal halal committee and a board member.

Tesco and McDonald’s Malaysia have both been forced to issue statements clarifying that their companies here do not contribute any of its sales or profits to political or economic funds elsewhere in the world, especially to Israel.

“I think it’s probably misguided and I think there’s so many people circulating info that is not authenticated,” said Azlam, and urged customers to get their information concerning Tesco direct from the company.

Azlam said that being a public-listed company meant that Tesco Malaysia must abide by the Securities Commission’s regulation against any contributions.

“We don’t source any product at all from Israel, never once. Our conscience is very clear,” he stressed, adding that the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation has very strict regulations against trade with the Middle Eastern country.

Malaysians have taken part in boycotts after a list of products and companies purportedly with ties to Israel’s Zionist regime was circulated through social media, although many have ended up there based on now-debunked hoaxes and obsolete links.

Tesco and McDonald’s Malaysia have both been forced to issue statements clarifying that their companies here do not contribute any of its sales or profits to political or economic funds elsewhere in the world, especially to Israel. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Tesco and McDonald’s Malaysia have both been forced to issue statements clarifying that their companies here do not contribute any of its sales or profits to political or economic funds elsewhere in the world, especially to Israel. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Other than Tesco and McDonald’s Malaysia, the list also included American coffee chain Starbucks, soft drink brand Coca-Cola, Swiss multinational firm Nestlé and British bank HSBC.

BDS Movement Malaysia, which facilitates the local boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement, said the public found it easier to just follow a list of boycotts which have been distributed online by certain NGOs.

The list gave the perception that it was a verified guideline which is part of an international campaign when it actually is not, said the group.

“It is always easier to follow the crowd… Other than that, doing your own research is not an easy task,” said the group’s coordinator Masyhur Abdullah, who is also an investment professional for a local fund management company.

To counter any “misguided” attempt, the group aims to educate the Malaysian public on the international BDS strategy which it said has been proven successful since its launch in 2005.

“We want to educate people that there are other effective ways to pressure Israel from continuing to violate international law and Palestinian right than consumer boycott through divestments and sanctions,” added Masyhur.

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