Anti-Sexual Violence Groups Tell Whole Foods CEO to "Get Real" at Philadelphia Conference
Port Matilda, Pennsylvania - April 12, 2017, Digital Journal
An open letter from anti-sexual violence leaders to Conscious Capitalism, Inc. urges Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to disavow spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former rabbi facing allegations of sexual abuse.
The letter's lead signer, Matthew Sandusky, is founder of nonprofit Peaceful Hearts Foundation, and adopted son of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, a convicted pedophile.
The open letter is in response to an announcement about the Conscious Capitalism annual conference in Philadelphia, April 18–20: “Conscious Capitalism, Inc., the nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business, announced today the addition of a ‘Get Real with…’ session featuring Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO, John Mackey.”
Mackey is a co-founding board member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., leader of the movement, and co-author of the book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.
The open letter states:
"April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As Conscious Capitalism’s founding board member, will Mackey 'get real' about changing the culture of sexual violence? Will Conscious Capitalism leaders 'get real' about holding him accountable?"
The New York Times first reported Mackey’s affiliation with Gafni in December 2015. Gafni is co-founding director of nonprofit think tank The Center for Integral Wisdom. 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 NY 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.
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.”
More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders, led by New York Rabbi David Ingber, undersigned a petition to Whole Foods: “Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again.” The petition cited “many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent.”
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. In it, he 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 site says Mackey “chose not to renew his role on the Board of Directors” of Gafni’s center.
A June update on Mackey’s Whole Foods Market Blog states his involvement with Gafni is “strictly a personal relationship.”
In December 2016, an open letter from 130 advocates to board members of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. urged “sexual violence accountability.” Published by Feminine Collective, and signed by leaders from organizations including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) and Faculty Against Rape (FAR), the letter urged Mackey to disavow Gafni.
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, the Stop Abuse Campaign, Protect 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, part of the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), the country’s first rape crisis center.
[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 loyalty to Gafni.
Gafni has never been charged with a crime. He is exemplar on a petition to New York state lawmakers, urging them to pass the Child Victims Act, proposed statute of limitations reform for claims of child sexual abuse. The petition has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged his support for the bill.
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.”
In Pennsylvania, advocacy leaders are also lobbying for statute of limitations reform. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape joined a group of Pennsylvania legislators led by State Rep. Mark Rozzi who said, “Pennsylvania has the opportunity to be on the right side of change. We no longer want to be known nationally as the epicenter for child sexual abuse.”
The open letter, authored by San Francisco Bay Area activist Nancy Levine, asks:
"Will Mackey 'get real' about changing the culture of sexual violence, revise his statement of loyalty to Gafni, and disavow his friend?"