Whole Foods CEO declares loyalty to spiritual guru, accused sex abuser

Is Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey an accomplice to child sexual abuse? Mackey released a statement this week, declaring his loyalty to spiritual leader, a former rabbi accused of sexual abuse, Marc Gafni.

Politico reported this past week on Vice President Joe Biden’s speech at the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C. He “insisted that men who stay quiet about rape culture and sexual assaults are accomplices.”

I previously blogged about the importance of Mackey speaking up about his relationship with Gafni, as reported by The New York Times in December. I am an activist, working to change the culture of silence surrounding child sexual abuse. I have been writing about this matter since I read Mark Oppenheimer’s expose in The Times, detailing Gafni’s background and his association with Mackey.

Mackey is also a co-founder and board member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. On June 9, I sent the email below to speakers at the upcoming Conscious Capitalism CEO SummitBrené Brown, founder and CEO of COURAGEworks, and to media contacts for Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade:

“I am a writer and publicist working with nonprofits SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, featured in the movie Spotlight), and Peaceful Hearts Foundation, founded by Matthew Sandusky, adopted son of former Penn State football coach and convicted sex offender Jerry Sandusky.

I see Ben & Jerry’s Homemade CEO Jostein Solheim is scheduled to be a speaker at the Tenth Annual Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, October 18-20.

As you may know, Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey is a founding board member of Conscious Capitalism.

Is Mr. Solheim aware of Mr. Mackey’s relationship with accused sex offender, former rabbi Marc Gafni, as reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post?

The New York Times, 12/25/15:

‘A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past’

‘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.’

Mr. Gafni said of one of his accusers, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.’

The Washington Post, 5/25/16:

‘Protesters’ problem with new Whole Foods concept: An ex-rabbi’s alleged sex scandal’

‘The protesters are targeting Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s links to Marc Gafni, a former rabbi who allegedly had sex with a number of his followers, including two teenage girls, as the New York Times reported last year.’

Would Mr. Solheim like to make a statement about the matter above?”

I received this email from Julie van Amerongan, Director of Programs and Events of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.:

“By way of introduction, I’m Julie van Amerongen, longtime director at Conscious Capitalism, Inc. and producer of our annual conferences.

I am aware of your efforts to raise awareness about issues with Marc Gafni and again want to reiterate to you that Conscious Capitalism has no professional association with Marc.  As longtime producer of our events I can assure you that Marc has neither spoken at nor attended any of our events.  As you know, our organization does not condone or support or ignore issues of sexual assault, harassment or abuse and are unequivocal that it is absolutely unacceptable.  We have created and support a culture of love and care here – words not often used in business environments, but words I don’t hesitate to use here.

As you also know, John Mackey is the co-founder of our organization and sits on the board.  I have known John for many years and he has spoken numerous times at the events I have produced and has always been a strong proponent of elevating the role of women in the workplace.  I want to make sure you have seen the statement he has released which also makes clear his alignment with our organization’s stated values:

‘I want to make it crystal clear that I do not condone sexual assault, harassment, or abuse in any form.  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.  At the same time, I understand the devastating effects of abuse, and my heart goes out to any and all victims of sexual abuse everywhere.  I am, at once, presuming Marc’s innocence and firmly standing against what he’s accused of.’

I understand that you like and even admire the work of Conscious Capitalism. Yet when I see and hear about your outreach to our event speakers, sponsors and attendees I have to ask what your intentions are here.  My staff and I feel like we are innocent bystanders in the crossfire of your attack against Marc.  We don’t support Marc, we’ve done nothing wrong, our work is noble and we work so hard, yet day after day we have another mess to clean up because you are choosing to attack us and our amazing community to get to Marc.  In my mind there has just got to be another way.

Since John has stepped off Marc’s board and has released a statement against sexual abuse–cutting whatever imagined ties there were between Conscious Capitalism and Marc, I’d respectfully request that you look for an alternative avenue for your crusade against Marc so that our team can continue our focus on elevating humanity through business.”

I responded to van Amerongen:

“Thank you, Julie, I do appreciate your note. I had not previously seen John’s statement. Do you know where his statement was released prior to your emailing it to me?

My motivation is this: I’m working as a volunteer with nonprofit advocacy groups SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, featured in the movie Spotlight), Peaceful Hearts Foundation, founded by Matthew Sandusky, son of Jerry Sandusky, and NAASCA (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse).

The leaders of these groups are unequivocal about the importance of breaking the culture of silence that underlies all sexual violence. John’s silence was hurtful to all survivors of child sexual abuse, and served to reinforce the culture of silence underlying child sexual abuse.

I’m all for elevating humanity through conscious business practices and awareness. My point has been that in order to elevate humanity we must elevate for all — and break the culture of silence surrounding sexual abuse. Otherwise, we are only selectively conscious.”

As to the provenance of Mackey’s statement, van Amerongan emailed:

“I’m not sure where the statement was released. I’m not privy to Whole Foods press releases. John shared this with me last month and said it could be shared with others.”

I have emailed Whole Foods’ executive spokesperson Robin Rehfield Kelley to inquire about the release of Mackey’s statement. Previously, Rehfield Kelley had emailed, when asked if Mackey wanted to make a statement about the protests at Whole Foods in New York and at the company’s 365 launch in Los Angeles:

“John no longer serves on Mr. Gafni’s  board and has no connection to the Center for Integral Wisdom. That being said, there’s nothing else to say on this matter.” Leaders of advocacy organizations and protesters objected to Mackey’s and Whole Foods’ silence.

I will update this blog if/when Rehfield Kelley or a spokesperson from Whole Foods replies. The Forward has subsequently reported on the release of Mackey’s statement.

As for Mackey’s statement regarding Gafni’s “presumption of innocence,” I have blogged about embattled legislation, the Child Victims Act in New York State and related media coverage. Gafni’s accusers are prevented from pursuing legal action because of statute of limitations restrictions. The proposed legislation would extend or eliminate statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse.

One of Gafni’s accusers, Sara Kabakov is working to help champion the legislation. After The Times story was published in December, Kabakov came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni’s Abuse Began.”

As for the “imagined ties” between Conscious Capitalism and Gafni, The Washington Post reported, “He [Mackey] quotes Gafni liberally in his 2013 book ‘Conscious Capitalism,’ and appeared with Gafni in videos discussing the book that, until recently, appeared on Whole Foods’ website.”

Mother Jones published a scathing review of Mackey’s book Conscious Capitalism: “Libertarian Propaganda with Your Organic Arugula?” Another CEO of a public company who was in contact with Mackey messaged me about his allegiance to Gafni: “it’s more of his libertarian ideology as I understand.” At last summer’s FreedomFest, the annual Libertarian conference in Las Vegas (where Donald Trump headlined), Mackey and Gafni joined forces as a debate team. Later in the program, Gafni presented solo, “The Erotic and the Ethical: Next Steps in Libertarian Awakening.”

As for Gafni having “neither spoken at nor attended any” Conscious Capitalism events, from the conference summary for the 2nd Invitational Conclave on Conscious Business, presented by the Esalen Institute and Conscious Capitalism Institute in 2012: “On Monday morning, the Director of the Center for World Spirituality, Marc Gafni, launched the week’s conversations…”

As for my creating “another mess to clean up because [I am] choosing to attack” Conscious Capitalism, I would posit that I am neither attacking nor creating a mess. Rather, I am shining a spotlight on the “Whole Mess at Whole Foods,” as reported by Nonprofit Quarterly: “Just like the hypocrisy of Bill Cosby’s moralizing about black respectability and Jared Fogle’s trying to help childhood obesity, Marc Gafni’s views and new age spirituality look very much like an attempt to overshadow the pain he has caused by letting the world know what a ‘profoundly good person he is.’ John Mackey is compounding this hypocrisy and bringing Whole Foods with him.”

So is Mackey an accomplice?

Myka Held, staff attorney with SurvJustice, previously emailed this comment for a piece I wrote for Epic Times. Her statement is included here, in its entirety:

“Given the dismal rates of prosecution of rapists, and the fact that even rapists who are prosecuted are not always convicted or appropriately punished, we cannot use the wide-spread failure of the criminal justice system as an excuse to let offenders off the hook. Marc Gafni has publicly admitted to having sex with a 13 year old girl while he was an adult. Regardless of his arguments about consent, it is a crime in this country to have sex with a minor and his defenders cannot hide behind the argument that sex was consensual. His attempts to shift blame to his young victim, stating that she was ’14 going on 35′ are despicable and show both his lack of remorse for his crime and his inability to recognize the seriousness of his crime.

For these reasons alone it is important for us as a society to hold him accountable, and part of the mechanisms for doing so require us to demand that his powerful friends end their support. It is comments like Marc Gafni’s, that his victim was ’14 going on 35′, that silence victims in the first place and make them afraid to come forward and report to police. I commend the bravery of the two women who have come forward publicly to warn others about the abuse Marc Gafni perpetuated against them and hope that we as a society can rally around these women rather than allow Marc Gafni to attack his victims, both of whom were not old enough to consent, and by their own words, did not consent to sexual relations with Marc Gafni.”

In response to Mackey’s statement, New York Rabbi David Ingber, who has spearheaded the criticism of Gafni and his supporters, posted this on his Facebook page:

“Shame on you John Mackey. Shame on you for your ‘loyalty’ and for your abhorrent callousness towards real victims, real women, real abuse, real stories that are not only from some mythic past but are still happening, right here and right now. Shame on you Mackey for trusting a sociopath instead of reaching out to those whom he has abused. Shame on you for calling your complicity with sexual exploitation anything [other] than what it is….accomplice to a very disturbed and sick man.”

What about accountability? Cary Krosinsky, lecturer at Yale University previously emailed for my Epic Times piece, “I think in a case like this, it should be the obligation of all investors to hold the companies they own to a minimum standard behavior.”

The largest individual investors in Whole Foods Market are members of the board of directors. Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store sits on the boards of both Whole Foods Market and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. Business Ethics magazine reported: “If WFM’s board accepts that there is a firewall protecting the company from adverse attention in Mackey’s relationship with Gafni, as well as that the relationship is ‘in the company’s best interests,’ they shoulder accountability to stakeholders if they are wrong.”

Whole Foods has posted this statement about Marc Gafni on their website: “John is no longer on the board of directors of the Center for Integral Wisdom and we’ve made that position very clear. John Mackey chose not to renew his role on the Board of Directors of the Center for Integral Wisdom. This decision was personal and independent of Whole Foods Market.” The statement serves to legally indemnify the company. But what about ethical responsibility?

As 18th century Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And as 20th century Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself.”

Whole Foods CEO declares loyalty to spiritual guru, accused sex abuser

Spotlight 2.0: Child Sexual Abuse and The New York Times

Updated June 12, 2016

If silence is the jet fuel of child sexual abuse, why would any media outlet keep mum on reporting related news? Why hasn’t The New York Times reported on developments related to the Child Victims Act in New York State? Does the newspaper have a conflict of interest?

The proposed legislation, authored and long-championed by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, would eliminate civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse.

In related news, the Forward reported that child sexual abuse survivor Sara Kabakov is working with Assemblywoman Markey to help champion the Child Victims Act. Ms. Kabakov came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward, identifying herself as the then-14-year old alleged victim of former rabbi Marc Gafni, as reported by The Times in December:

“Mr. Gafni was quoted saying they had been in love. He added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.'”

And this:

“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.”

As it happens, the wife of New York Times Publisher and Chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.Gabrielle Greene Sulzberger sits on the Whole Foods Market board of directors. According to 7/20/15 proxy statement, Mrs. Sulzberger’s 2014 Whole Foods Market annual cash compensation was $422,049. According to 6/18/15 SEC reporting, Mrs. Sulzberger held 64,666 shares of Whole Foods Market stock.

Presumably there is no causal relationship between The Times‘ absence of reporting on the Child Victims Act and the Sulzberger family financial interests in Whole Foods Market. But to quell any concern about conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict, given Ms. Kabakov’s involvement with Assemblywoman Markey to champion the legislation, wouldn’t The Times want to pay extra attention to reporting on the Child Victims Act?

The Times has also not followed up on its December story about Whole Foods’ connection to Marc Gafni. The newspaper did not report on protests at Whole Foods in New York and at the the supermarket company’s widely heralded first 365 store launch in Los Angeles.

The Washington Post covered the story: “Protesters’ problem with new Whole Foods concept: An ex-rabbi’s alleged sex scandal.” The Post reported that Matthew Sandusky, founder of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, and adopted son of convicted Penn State pedophile Jerry Sandusky, joined protesters in Manhattan, decrying Whole Foods’ silence about its CEO’s relationship with Mr. Gafni.

The Times wasn’t shy, however, about covering Whole Foods’ new 365 store launch. Neither was any other media outlet. Bloomberg reported Messrs. Mackey and Sulzberger fêting Whole Foods’ 365 inaugural opening:

“At a recent party to celebrate 365 in New York, guests included Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who is also co-chief executive officer, and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. They chatted with celebrity chef David Chang over Fuku sliders and noshed on vegan chocolate cookies from By Chloe with Samantha Wasser, one of the founders of the trendy vegan eatery in the West Village.”

The New York Daily News, among other media outletshas been reporting news related to the Child Victims Act. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he is backing the bill. The Catholic Church paid lobby firms $2 million to block the legislation. Hundreds of survivors and supporters, including New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on June 5. (photo courtesy of Tamara Schoor)

Brooklyn Bridge photo:courtesy Tamara Schoor

The Times has published items related to the Child Victims Act in the past, including a 2014 opinion piece authored by the Editorial Board: “Justice Denied for Abused Children.” In it, the Board noted that the bill “will continue to languish until Mr. Cuomo, who has been missing in action on the matter and is now seeking re-election, confronts intense lobbying by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and other opponents of reform.” So why didn’t The Times report news of Governor Cuomo’s announcement and the Catholic Church’s $2 million payout to lobby firms?

Given the spate of news items about sexual violence, e.g., the Stanford swimmerSandusky, Cosby, HastertBaylor University, etc., why isn’t news about the Child Victims Act the focus of a “coverage cluster,” as part of The Times‘ new editorial strategy?

On May 22, I emailed The Times executive editor Dean Baquet and asked him why the newspaper was not covering news related to the Child Victims Act, making this mention:

“I am not saying there is a causal relationship between The Times absence of reporting on the Child Victims Act and the Sulzberger family financial interests in Whole Foods Market. But to assuage any remote concern about conflict of interest, I would like to invite The Times to closely consider what it deems newsworthy.”

Mr. Baquet responded:

“Only someone quite paranoid would see such a connection.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse are painfully familiar with Mr. Baquet’s response. Rule No. 1 in the Gaslighter’s Playbook: Respond to survivor’s concern with “you’re paranoid.” Survivors of child sexual abuse have every good reason to be paranoid. Did you see the movie Spotlight about the systemic coverup of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church?

In the film, then-Boston Globe editor Marty Baron, portrayed by Liev Schreiber, was the driving force behind the Spotlight team’s investigation of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Mr. Baron is now executive editor of The Washington Post and still shining a spotlight on the topic of child sexual abuse. Mr. Baquet, meanwhile, chose to shut the door, keeping child sexual abuse in the dark closet.

Fortunately, the culture of silence surrounding child sexual abuse is shifting. When a survivor voices a concern, and is met with “you’re paranoid,” he or she can now turn to a growing community of other survivors, supporters, and advocates for a reality check.

In this case, I asked professors of journalism for a reality check on The Times‘ reporting.

David S. Allen, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee emailed:

“I would argue the [Times] needs to be open and transparent about connections. If there was no conflict of interest, it should tell people why and what it is doing to make sure corporate connections do not interfere with news coverage.”

Sandra Davidson, Professor, Curators’ Teaching Professor, Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri, Adjunct Professor, School of Law emailed:

“How about full disclosure–transparency?  Then let the readers decide how to weigh the various factors in formulating their opinions.”

I emailed this blog post to Mr. Baquet. Our dialogue followed:

DB: Dear Nancy, Can I be frank? I get tons of reader notes, and I try to respond. But I can’t quite keep up with your various agendas. And I can’t edit The Times for you personally. So forgive me if I don’t actually check out every note you send. It is starting to feel just a tad like you are on a crusade. Best, Dean

NL: Thank you, Dean, I appreciate your candor and your response. I can assure you my only agendas are social justice and excellence in journalism, so we’re on the same side. Best, Nancy

DB: Yes, but I think you’re [sic] definition of excellence in journalism is coverage of issues you want covered as an advocate of particular causes. Mine is a little bit broader. My only point is forgive me if I don’t respond to everything. Best, Dean

I am not asking Mr. Baquet to edit The Times for me personally. Rather, I am asking him to consider covering news that affects the one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys who are victims of child sexual abuse. I am asking on behalf of adult survivors, those who support them, and everyone who is interested in eradicating the pandemic. I am asking him to pay extra attention to breaking the culture of silence that allows child sexual abuse to continue, and prevents long-festering wounds from healing.

The Stanford swimmer’s father reduced his son’s rape of an unconscious woman to “20 minutes of action,” a statement that has become a rallying call, emblematic of rape culture. Doesn’t “She was 14 going on 35” warrant equal outrage — and related news coverage?

Questions remain: Why isn’t The Times covering news related to the Child Victims Act? By what criteria does The Times calibrate newsworthiness — and in what ways is news about the proposed legislation falling short of the hurdle, not qualifying for coverage? Does The Times have a conflict of interest or the appearance of one?

According to their statement of Standards and Ethics, “The core purpose of The New York Times is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news and information.” Is The Times’ decision not to cover the Child Victims Act enhancing society — or harming it by material omission?

Former public editor Margaret Sullivan, now media columnist at The Washington Postexcoriated The Times in January for its scant reporting on the drinking water emergency in Flint, Michigan. Ms. Sullivan wrote:

“If The Times had kept the pressure on the Flint story, the resulting journalism might not have made the ‘trending’ list — but it would have made a real difference to the people of Flint, who were in serious need of a powerful ally.”

In the midst of our boiling-over outrage about sexual violence, wouldn’t The Times want to be a powerful ally to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse? Doesn’t this matter call for discourse rather than dismissal?

I encourage survivors, their supporters, and anyone who cares about the crusade to eradicate child sexual abuse and the culture of silence that fuels it, to inquire about The Times‘ coverage of matters relating to child sex abuse, and appearance of a conflict of interest. Contact incoming public editor Elizabeth Spayd at public@nytimes.com. (Please note: several people have told me they received a message from the office of the public editor, saying they don’t address coverage issues. So if you’d like the public editor to address this matter, you will need to ask about the appearance of a conflict of interest.)

 

Spotlight 2.0: Child Sexual Abuse and The New York Times

Experts Criticize Whole Foods, CEO For Link to Spiritual Leader, Former Rabbi with “Troubled Past”

 

On December 25, 2015, The New York Times reported Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey’s affiliation with spiritual leader, former rabbi Marc Gafni: “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.” And of one of his accusers, “He [Gafni] added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.'”

More than 100 rabbis authored a petition demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni. Sara Kabakov came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in The Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni’s Abuse Began.”

Mackey’s public statement, posted on his Whole Foods blog, says his affiliation with Gafni is “strictly a personal relationship.” His post includes a link to Gafni’s website and their seven-part video dialogue. A spokesperson for Whole Foods emailed: “John no longer serves on Mr. Gafni’s board and has no connection to the Center for Integral Wisdom. That being said, there’s nothing else to say on this matter.”

Since The Times story broke, Mackey has been widely criticized by experts in business, academia, and survivors advocacy work.

COMMENTS:

Jo-Ellen Pozner, faculty, U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business:

“My take on this situation, in a nutshell, is that corporate leaders are showing a real lack of judgment in endorsing somebody with a tainted reputation of this particular sort. Not only does it show a disregard for important groups of stakeholders, it reveals a bit of hubris and tone-deafness. I think these sorts of associations are bad publicity, and reveal a blind spot which makes me question managerial judgment.”

Brad Hecht, Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Reputation Institute:

“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.”

Peter Laughter, co-chair, New York City Chapter, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.:

“I believe that Marc Gafni’s admitted sexual liaison with a 13-year-old girl is reprehensible. Although Gafni has no connection to Conscious Capitalism, as a volunteer in the community, I am discouraged by John Mackey’s affiliation with Gafni’s organization. It is my hope that John reconsider this stance as he is a respected and representative thought leader in the Conscious Capitalism movement.”

Business Ethics Magazine, Spotlight on Whole Foods CEO’s Ties to ‘Spiritual Leader with Troubled Past’:

“If WFM’s board accepts that there is a firewall protecting the company from adverse attention in Mackey’s relationship with Gafni, as well as that the relationship is ‘in the company’s best interests,’ they shoulder accountability to stakeholders if they are wrong.”

Michael MessnerProfessor of Sociology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, and co-author of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women

“There is a growing chorus of younger men today who denounce sexual violence against women.  But voiced opinions are one thing, and actions yet another.  Too often still, when men’s vested interests are at stake–be they in the corporate board room, the frat house or the locker room–otherwise ‘good men’ maintain a culture of silence that helps to perpetuate violence against women.”

Cary Krosinsky, Lecturer, Yale University:

“I think in a case like this, it should be the obligation of all investors to hold the companies they own to a minimum standard behavior.”

Nonprofit Quarterly, The Whole Mess at Whole Foods:

“Just like the hypocrisy of Bill Cosby’s moralizing about black respectability and Jared Fogle’s trying to help childhood obesity, Marc Gafni’s views and new age spirituality look very much like an attempt to overshadow the pain he has caused by letting the world know what a ‘profoundly good person’ he is. John Mackey is compounding this hypocrisy and bringing Whole Foods with him.”

Edward L. Queen, Director, Ethics and Servant Leadership Program, Center for Ethics, Emory University:

“I do think the CEO of Whole Foods has managed this horribly. He hasn’t demonstrated publicly the deep thoughtfulness of response these allegations warrant. There is a complete denial of human agency and responsibility.”

James AbruzzoCo-director, Institute for Ethical Leadership, Rutgers Business School:

“Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is itself improper.  As a person whose name, ideals and personal mission contribute to the brand value of a public company, Mackey’s responsibility to Whole Foods’ shareholders should outweigh any personal predilections.”

Sreedhari Desai, faculty, University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School:

“We expect our leaders to personify their organizations’ values and when their behavior strikes a discordant note, we expect answers. I find it hard to believe that John Mackey isn’t concerned about this issue, but he needs to find a way to demonstrate his values in this arena, especially given the public’s growing awareness of the importance of speaking up.”

James McRitchie, Publisher, CorpGov.net:

“Mr. Mackey has a fiduciary duty to WFM shareholders. His affiliation with Gafni and the center certainly put the reputation and value of WFM at risk.” 

The Scripps Voice, Whole Foods Fails Abuse Survivors:

“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.”

Myka N. Held, Esq.Staff Attorney, SurvJustice:

“Given the dismal rates of prosecution of rapists, and the fact that even rapists who are prosecuted are not always convicted or appropriately punished, we cannot use the wide-spread failure of the criminal justice system as an excuse to let offenders off the hook. Marc Gafni has publicly admitted to having sex with a 13 year old girl while he was an adult. His attempts to shift blame to his young victim, stating that she was “14 going on 35″ are despicable and show both his lack of remorse for his crime and his inability to recognize the seriousness of his crime. For these reasons alone it is important for us as a society to hold him accountable, and part of the mechanisms for doing so require us to demand that his powerful friends end their support.”

Melissa Agnes, President and co-founder Agnes + Day, a crisis management firm:

“So with a disgraceful statement directly from the alleged offender, and with news articles affiliating the Whole Foods name with this scandal, along with a petition pleading with the organization to sever their ties with Gafni, what was Whole Foods to do? Organizations need to start waking up to the realities of today. The world has changed and the longer they wait to adapt, the worse it is for their business.”

David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP, made this statement in a separate press release issued by SNAP:

“We hope it’s true that CEO Mackey’s distancing himself from Gafni. If so, however, we disagree with the public relations staffer who claims ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter.’ Mackey should apologize for his callousness and publicly announce his resignation from the board. And since Mackey’s involvement in Gafni’s center has been hurtful to those who were assaulted by Gafni, we hope Mackey takes clear, public and effective steps to ameliorate their suffering and to contribute to a climate that welcomes and encourages victims of sexual violence to speak up, rather than a climate that depresses and deters them. If you’ve hurt people, distancing yourself from a wrongdoer isn’t enough. You have a moral duty to do more. We hope to see tangible helpful action by Mackey very soon to lessen the harm he has caused by his irresponsible affiliation with and support for an admitted sex offender.”

Bill Murray, Founder and CEO of NAASCA (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse):

“Whole Foods’ public statement, ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter’ is tantamount to collusion with a known sexual predator. As a community, we need to bring light into the shadows of the oft taboo issues of child sexual abuse; to stop the silence and change the culture. On the other hand, John Mackey and the Whole Foods Market Board of Directors have an opportunity here to impress the masses they’d like to reach with the Whole Foods 365 launch. Instead of stepping out of this discussion they should publicly step up to the plate by taking a responsible corporate stand against child sexual abuse as soon as possible.”

Matthew Sandusky, Founder and Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation:

“Whole Foods’ public statement, ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter’ could not be more incorrect. For far too long we have allowed child sex abuse to remain in the shadows of silence. Marc Gafni has admitted to raping a child, yet Whole Foods and John Mackey continue to promote their connection with the known child sex offender. Perpetrators groom their victims into silence and society has reinforced that silence. John Mackey and the Whole Foods Market Board 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 in getting the message across that we can no longer remain silent.”

Advocacy groups SNAP, NAASCA, and Peaceful Hearts Foundation are leading a protest at Whole Foods 365 Opening, May 25 in Los Angeles.

PROTEST INVITATION

Time: Wednesday, May 25, 10am – 3pm

Place: Whole Foods 365:  2520 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039 Map It

Experts Criticize Whole Foods, CEO For Link to Spiritual Leader, Former Rabbi with “Troubled Past”

Abuse Groups to Protest at Whole Foods 365 Launch in LA

New York Times reported Whole Foods CEO link to spiritual leader, former rabbi with “troubled past”

LOS ANGELES, CA  —  National advocacy organizations for raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse issues are backing a protest at the inaugural opening of Whole Foods 365 store, May 25 in Los Angeles. Planning is underway for a coordinated protest at a Whole Foods store in New York City.

The protests are in response to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey’s link to spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former rabbi with a “troubled past,” as reported by The New York Times in December.

Advocacy groups SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), NAASCA (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse), and Peaceful Hearts Foundation (founded by Matthew Sandusky) are supporting the protest.

On December 25, 2015, The New York Times reported Mackey’s affiliation with Gafni, and the controversy surrounding the former rabbi: “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.” And of one of his accusers, “He [Gafni] added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.'”

More than 100 rabbis authored a petition demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni. Sara Kabakov came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in The Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni’s Abuse Began.” New York Rabbi David Ingber, lead author of the petition, emailed that planning is underway for a coordinated protest at Whole Foods’ Upper West Side location in New York City.

Mackey’s public statement, posted on his Whole Foods blog, says his affiliation with Gafni is “strictly a personal relationship.” His post includes a link to Gafni’s website and their seven-part video dialogue. Since The Times story broke, Mackey has been widely criticized by experts in business, academia, and survivors’ advocacy work

According to a post on Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom site, Mackey’s term as board co-chair ended in March. The Forward reported: “A spokesman for Gafni said that Mackey had also left the board, ‘as all previous board chair members do.’ He added that, ‘There was no break between Mackey and Gafni.'”

A spokesperson for Whole Foods emailed: “John no longer serves on Mr. Gafni’s board and has no connection to the Center for Integral Wisdom. That being said, there’s nothing else to say on this matter.”

But leaders of advocacy organizations have voiced stern disagreement with Whole Foods’ statement, “there’s nothing else to say.”

David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP, from their press release (SNAP gained prominence on Oscar® night when actor Mark Ruffalo, director Tom McCarthy and and screenwriter Josh Singer of the Spotlight movie joined SNAP’s protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church):

“We hope it’s true that CEO Mackey is distancing himself from Gafni. If so, however, we disagree with the public relations staffer who claims ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter.’ We hope Mackey takes clear, public and effective steps to ameliorate suffering and to contribute to a climate that welcomes and encourages victims of sexual violence to speak up, rather than a climate that depresses and deters them. If you’ve hurt people, distancing yourself from a wrongdoer isn’t enough. You have a moral duty to do more. We hope to see tangible helpful action by Mackey very soon to lessen the harm he has caused by his irresponsible affiliation with and support for an admitted sex offender.”

Bill Murray, Founder and CEO of NAASCA:

“As a community, we need to bring light into the shadows of the taboo issues of child sexual abuse — we must expose institutional enabling to stop the silence and change the culture. John Mackey and the Whole Foods Market Board of Directors have an opportunity here to impress the masses they’d like to reach with the Whole Foods 365 launch. Instead of stepping out of this discussion they should publicly step up to the plate by taking a responsible corporate stand against child sexual abuse as soon as possible.”

Matthew Sandusky, Founder and Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation:

“Whole Foods’ public statement, ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter’ could not be more incorrect. JohnMackey and the Whole Foods Market Board 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 — to take a leadership role in getting the message across that we can no longer remain silent.”

SNAP, NAASCA, and Peaceful Hearts Foundation are independent 501(c)(3) organizations.

PROTEST INVITATION

Time: Wednesday, May 25, 10am – 3pm

Place: Whole Foods 365:  2520 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039 Map It

###

 

Press Release on Newswire

Abuse Groups to Protest at Whole Foods 365 Launch in LA

Why it’s important for Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey to speak up about the Marc Gafni situation

Updated May 22, 2016

I am a survivor of teenage sexual abuse and an advocate for changing the culture of silence.

I have been writing, garnering experts’ opinions, and urging Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey to speak up about his relationship with controversial spiritual leader and former rabbi Marc Gafni, as reported by The New York Times on December 25, 2015:

“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.”

And of one of his accusers, “He [Gafni] added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.’”

In the wake of The Times story, more than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders authored a petition, citing “the many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent,” and demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni. Sara Kabakov came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni’s Abuse Began.”

Mackey’s only statement, first posted on his Whole Foods blog December 29, says his connection with Gafni is “strictly a personal relationship.” Whole Foods has tweeted out essentially the same message. This screenshot from January 3 shows Mackey’s executive board profile on Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom website. The page was scrubbed from the site later in January.

John Mackey Exec BoD CIW

Mackey is also a board member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. and co-founder of the movement. He was a keynote speaker at their annual conference in Chicago last month. In advance of his speech, I was messaging conference attendees, urging them to ask Mackey to speak up about his affiliation with Gafni.

A few days before Mackey’s speech, I received several scolding emails from Conscious Capitalism co-CEO Doug Rauch. He told me that Mackey had left Gafni’s board of directors. But I had not seen any public announcement.

I sent the tip to the Forward, which reported that Mackey’s board term had come to its conclusion: “A spokesman for Gafni said that Mackey had also left the board, ‘as all previous board chair members do.’ He added that, ‘There was no break between Mackey and Gafni.’”

I emailed Mackey, copying several members of Whole Foods’ board of directors, telling him protest planning was underway, and asking if he’d like to make a statement. A spokesperson for Whole Foods emailed: “John no longer serves on Mr. Gafni’s board and has no connection to the Center for Integral Wisdom. That being said, there’s nothing else to say on this matter.”

But leaders working to eradicate sexual abuse think Mackey needs to say much more. Coordinated protests are planned at Whole Foods in New York City, and at the highly anticipated launch of Whole Foods’ first 365 store in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, May 25.

Rabbi David Ingber, founder and Spiritual Director, Romemu, and lead author of the petition:

“Next Wednesday, I will stand in solidarity with the innocent, underage victims of sexual abuse, and stand against those who support and cover-up that abuse. Young girls were abused by Marc Gafni, and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and others like him have refused to distance themselves from Gafni, supporting him and providing cover for his predation.”

In an interview with the NY Daily News, Matthew Sandusky, Founder and Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation (and adopted son of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky), confirmed that he plans to join protesters at Whole Foods Market in NYC:

“Sandusky plans to attend a May 25 protest in Manhattan in support of two women who say they were sexually abused as teens by one-time rabbinical student Marc Gafni. ‘It’s obviously something I feel strongly, passionately about, to be there in person,’ Matt Sandusky said. ‘I love the opportunity to be there and help out.’”

Matthew Sandusky also said in a statement:

“Whole Foods’ public statement, ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter’ could not be more incorrect.”

David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, featured in the movie Spotlight), from the organization’s press release:

“Mackey should apologize for his callousness and publicly announce his resignation from [Gafni’s] board.”

Bill Murray, Founder and CEO of NAASCA (National Association for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse):

“We must expose institutional enabling to stop the silence and change the culture. Instead of stepping out of this discussion, Whole Foods should publicly step up to the plate by taking a responsible corporate stand against child sexual abuse as soon as possible.”

Survivor, author, and advocate Nikki DuBose wrote in HuffPost Los Angeles, “It’s no secret that survivors live in silence, and society has a responsibility to help end that.”

When I was 13, I wasn’t able to have a voice. But I have one now. Here are my emails to Rauch, in response to his upbraiding:

My intention is not to hurt nor attack Conscious Capitalism. My intention is to urge John Mackey to speak up. He happens to be keynoting at CC event. I have become friendly with Sara Kabakov, the then-girl who Gafni described as 14 going on 35. John’s silence hurts her. Hurts all survivors. His silent resignation is more silence. Silence is the problem.

I’m not against CC and have not disparaged the organization. But John is speaking at the CC conference. So he needs to be called out on his silence when he appears publicly. This is accountability, consequence. This is how culture change happens — when public awareness is raised. His silence is not a crime. It is destructive.

I like you. I am sorry you feel betrayed. I have nothing against CC. I have 100 rabbis and 3400 signees asking for John to speak up. As does pretty much everybody who supports culture change around sexual violence.  Honestly you should be yelling at him, not at me.

Also, your yelling at me will not silence me. All I’ve done is report facts and asked John to speak up. And I am asking others if they will ask him to please speak up. I have broken no agreements. This is speaking up, and how we break the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence.

There is no such thing as consensual sex with a 14-year old. A minor can not grant consent. Any discussion of consensuality is moot.

I am sorry that Conscious Capitalism is getting hurt because of John’s choices and his appearance at your conference. His silence — including his silent resignation — is hurtful. John is hurting Conscious Capitalism with his choices and behaviors. I am only shining light on the situation and asking questions. Because exposure and speaking up are the remedies.

***

PROTEST INVITATION LA

Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Place: 365 by Whole Foods:  2520 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039 Map It

Hours: 10am – 3pm PT

PROTEST INVITATION NYC

Place: Whole Foods: 808 Columbus Avenue (at 97th Street), New York, NY 10025 Map It

Hours: 11am-2pm ET

Press Release on Newswire

Why it’s important for Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey to speak up about the Marc Gafni situation

Whole Foods 365, millennials, and the alleged child sex abuser

On December 25, 2015, The New York Times reported Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey’s affiliation with alleged child sex abuser, former rabbi Marc Gafni:

“He [Gafni] added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.'”

“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.”

After The Times story broke, Mackey issued a statement on his Whole Foods blog, declaring his affiliation with Gafni “strictly a personal relationship.” His statement includes a link to Gafni’s site and their seven-part video conversation. A webpage for Gafni’s Success 3.0 Summit says the 2016 Summit “is being hosted by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.”

A group of more than 100 rabbis authored a petition, demanding that Whole Foods and Mackey sever ties with Gafni. Sara Kabakov was the girl Gafni described in The Times as “14 going on 35.” She came forward publicly for the first time in a first-person essay published in the Forward.

Mackey has been roundly criticized for his affiliation to Gafni by experts in business and academia, and by advocates for survivors of sexual abuse (see Comments section below).

Gafni’s nonprofit Center for Integral Wisdom website was scrubbed of all executive board members’ profiles in January. Here is a screenshot of Mackey’s board profile on Gafni’s CIW site from January 3, 2016.

 

Jill Tolles from the University of Nevada said in her TEDx talk, Finding Courage to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse:

“If silence is a predator’s best friend, and if shame and denial are the ingredients that help this epidemic to grow, then how can any of us stay silent? Maybe instead of just focusing on how uncomfortable this conversation is, we could focus on how this is an opportunity to have courage.”

 

Mackey was a keynote speaker at the Conscious Capitalism 2016 conference in Chicago on April 14. Mackey is a board member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. and a co-founder of the movement.

According to an interview in Forbes with Mackey and Gafni about conscious capitalism, “the authors have been in dialogue for years now about interesting crossovers in their thinking.” In response to my inquiries tweeted to the Conscious Capitalism Twitter account, I was blocked from their account. Conscious Capitalism co-CEO Doug Rauch and Peter Laughter, co-chair of the New York City Chapter of Conscious Capitalism, have made public statements, repudiating Gafni (see Comments, below).

Rauch sent me several scolding emails after I tweeted this blog post to attendees of the Conscious Capitalism conference. I assured him in my email responses that my only intention was to encourage Mackey to break his silence; and why it is important for him to do so.

Update, 4/6/16: According to a report in the Forward, a spokesperson for Gafni said Mackey’s term as board chair had ended — he did not resign. The source also said, “There was no break between Mackey and Gafni.”

A protest is planned at the opening of  Whole Foods’ first 365 Store, its initiative to lure millennials, in Los Angeles on May 25. Whole Foods’ strategy for luring millennials to its new 365 chain: Be a “super cool hang.” Given the scope of media attention, and imperative to change the culture by speaking up about sexual abuse, will millennials find Mackey’s silence about his relationship with Gafni super uncool?

Update, 4/20/16: A spokesperson for Whole Foods Market emailed: “John no longer serves on Mr. Gafni’s  board and has no connection to the Center for Integral Wisdom. That being said, there’s nothing else to say on this matter.”

Leaders of organizations and advocates working to eradicate childhood sexual abuse have voiced stern disagreement.

David Clohessy, Executive Director, SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) made this statement in a separate press release issued by SNAP. (The SNAP group gained prominence on Oscar night when actor Mark Ruffalo, director Tom McCarthy and and screenwriter Josh Singer of the Spotlight movie joined the SNAP Los Angeles protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic church):

“We hope it’s true that CEO Mackey’s distancing himself from Gafni. If so, however, we disagree with the public relations staffer who claims ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter.’ Mackey should apologize for his callousness and publicly announce his resignation from the board. He should also remove the link to Gafni’s CIW site on his Whole Foods blog. And since Mackey’s involvement in Gafni’s center has been hurtful to those who were assaulted by Gafni, we hope Mackey takes clear, public and effective steps to ameliorate their suffering and to contribute to a climate that welcomes and encourages victims of sexual violence to speak up, rather than a climate that depresses and deters them.

If you’ve hurt people, distancing yourself from a wrongdoer isn’t enough. You have a moral duty to do more. We hope to see tangible helpful action by Mackey very soon to lessen the harm he has caused by his irresponsible affiliation with and support for an admitted sex offender.”

Bill Murray, CEO and founder of NAASCA, emailed:

“John Mackey is oddly silent about his relationship with Marc Gafni, an admitted child sex abuser, yet continues to openly celebrate their close connection through multiple links and references on the official Whole Foods website and blog. This is tantamount to institutional enabling. In much the same way, officials at Penn State continued to deny the issues they faced with Jerry Sandusky on their campus far beyond the point at which they could have salvaged the sterling reputation of their university. As a community we need to bring light into the shadows of the oft taboo issues of child sexual abuse; to stop the silence and change the culture.

Whole Foods’ public statement, ‘there’s nothing else to say on this matter’ is tantamount to collusion with a known sexual predator. On the other hand, John Mackey and the Whole Foods Board of Directors have an opportunity here to impress the masses they’d like to reach with the Whole Foods 365 launch. Instead of stepping out of this discussion they should publicly step up to the plate by taking a responsible corporate stand against child sexual abuse as soon as possible.”

PROTEST INVITATION

Time: Wednesday, May 25, 10am – 3pm

Place: Whole Foods 365:  2520 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039 Map It

Comments:

Jo-Ellen Pozner, faculty, U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business:

“My take on this situation, in a nutshell, is that corporate leaders are showing a real lack of judgment in endorsing somebody with a tainted reputation of this particular sort. Not only does it show a disregard for important groups of stakeholders, it reveals a bit of hubris and tone-deafness. I think these sorts of associations are bad publicity, and reveal a blind spot which makes me question managerial judgment.”

Brad Hecht, Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Reputation Institute:

“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.”

Peter Laughter, co-chair, New York City Chapter, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.:

“I believe that Marc Gafni’s admitted sexual liaison with a 13-year-old girl is reprehensible. Although Gafni has no connection to Conscious Capitalism, as a volunteer in the community, I am discouraged by John Mackey’s affiliation with Gafni’s organization. It is my hope that John reconsider this stance as he is a respected and representative thought leader in the Conscious Capitalism movement.”

Doug Rauch, co-CEO, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.:

“Conscious Capitalism has no professional association with Marc Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom and does not promote either in any way.  Conscious Capitalism does not condone, support or in any way remain silent on issues of sexual assault, harassment or abuse.  We are unequivocal that any type of abuse or assault is unacceptable, and we support a culture of open transparency, care and integrity in all personal interactions.”

Business Ethics Magazine, Spotlight on Whole Foods CEO’s Ties to ‘Spiritual Leader with Troubled Past’:

“If WFM’s board accepts that there is a firewall protecting the company from adverse attention in Mackey’s relationship with Gafni, as well as that the relationship is ‘in the company’s best interests,’ they shoulder accountability to stakeholders if they are wrong.”

Michael MessnerProfessor of Sociology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, and co-author of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women

“There is a growing chorus of younger men today who denounce sexual violence against women.  But voiced opinions are one thing, and actions yet another.  Too often still, when men’s vested interests are at stake–be they in the corporate board room, the frat house or the locker room–otherwise ‘good men’ maintain a culture of silence that helps to perpetuate violence against women.”

Cary Krosinsky, Lecturer, Yale University:

“I think in a case like this, it should be the obligation of all investors to hold the companies they own to a minimum standard behavior.”

Nonprofit Quarterly, The Whole Mess at Whole Foods:

“Just like the hypocrisy of Bill Cosby’s moralizing about black respectability and Jared Fogle’s trying to help childhood obesity, Marc Gafni’s views and new age spirituality look very much like an attempt to overshadow the pain he has caused by letting the world know what a ‘profoundly good person’ he is. John Mackey is compounding this hypocrisy and bringing Whole Foods with him.”

Edward L. Queen, Director, Ethics and Servant Leadership Program, Center for Ethics, Emory University:

“I do think the CEO of Whole Foods has managed this horribly. He hasn’t demonstrated publicly the deep thoughtfulness of response these allegations warrant. There is a complete denial of human agency and responsibility.”

James AbruzzoCo-director, Institute for Ethical Leadership, Rutgers Business School:

“Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is itself improper.  As a person whose name, ideals and personal mission contribute to the brand value of a public company, Mackey’s responsibility to Whole Foods’ shareholders should outweigh any personal predilections.”

Sreedhari Desai, faculty, University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School:

“We expect our leaders to personify their organizations’ values and when their behavior strikes a discordant note, we expect answers. I find it hard to believe that John Mackey isn’t concerned about this issue, but he needs to find a way to demonstrate his values in this arena, especially given the public’s growing awareness of the importance of speaking up.”

James McRitchie, Publisher, CorpGov.net:

“Mr. Mackey has a fiduciary duty to WFM shareholders. His affiliation with Gafni and the center certainly put the reputation and value of WFM at risk.” 

The Scripps Voice, Whole Foods Fails Abuse Survivors:

“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.”

David Clohessy, Executive Director, SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests):

“At first glance, the movie Spotlight is about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in Boston. But a troubling and accurate sub-text throughout the film is that any number of people were alerted to the crisis but chose, for various reasons, not to pursue it. I hope Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey sees the movie and recognizes it as a call to action.”

Myka N. Held, Esq.Staff Attorney, SurvJustice:

“Given the dismal rates of prosecution of rapists, and the fact that even rapists who are prosecuted are not always convicted or appropriately punished, we cannot use the wide-spread failure of the criminal justice system as an excuse to let offenders off the hook. Marc Gafni has publicly admitted to having sex with a 13 year old girl while he was an adult. His attempts to shift blame to his young victim, stating that she was “14 going on 35″ are despicable and show both his lack of remorse for his crime and his inability to recognize the seriousness of his crime. For these reasons alone it is important for us as a society to hold him accountable, and part of the mechanisms for doing so require us to demand that his powerful friends end their support.”

Melissa Agnes, President and co-founder Agnes + Day, a crisis management firm:

“So with a disgraceful statement directly from the alleged offender, and with news articles affiliating the Whole Foods name with this scandal, along with a petition pleading with the organization to sever their ties with Gafni, what was Whole Foods to do? Organizations need to start waking up to the realities of today. The world has changed and the longer they wait to adapt, the worse it is for their business.”

Whole Foods 365, millennials, and the alleged child sex abuser

New York Times Goes Silent on Alleged Sex Abuser Rabbi

The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan excoriated the newspaper in her column last week for its scant investigative reporting on the drinking water emergency in Flint, Michigan. Ms. Sullivan wrote:

“There seem to be plenty of Times resources for such hit-seeking missives as ‘breadfacing,’ or for the Magazine’s thorough exploration of buffalo plaid and ‘lumbersexuals.’”

The newspaper also hasn’t followed up on this story:

The Times published an exposé on December 25, 2015 about former rabbi, alleged sex offender Marc Gafni, and his alliance with Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO John Mackey:

“He [Gafni] added, “She was 14 going on 35…”

“Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO John Mackey…is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center.”

Many follow-ups have been published about Gafni and his alleged wrongdoings, largely by Jewish media outlets. Most notable among these is a first-person account by Sara Kabakov in The Forward. Her first time coming forward publicly in 30 years, she was the 14-year-old described by Gafni as “going on 35.”

More than 100 rabbis authored a petition demanding that Whole Foods cut ties with Gafni. The petition has garnered upwards of 3300 online signatures as of this writing. Comments include a statement by author Joan Borysenko, resigning from from Gafni’s Wisdom Council, citing the “weight of the wrongdoing and its continuation,” and agreeing “that we must stop further hurt and exploitation.”

Nonprofit Quarterly story observed:

Just like the hypocrisy of Bill Cosby’s moralizing about black respectability and Jared Fogle’s trying to help childhood obesity, Marc Gafni’s views and new age spirituality look very much like an attempt to overshadow the pain he has caused by letting the world know what a ‘profoundly good person he is.’ John Mackey is compounding this hypocrisy and bringing Whole Foods with him.

The Times, however, has elected not to follow up on the Whole Foods connection. Why should they?  What more is there to report? I won’t replicate all the details from my previous posts. If you’re inclined, you can read more on CorpGov.net and About Money. Here are highlights, along with new information:

Mackey and a Whole Foods public relations representative issued a statement, defining the CEO’s relationship to Gafni as strictly “personal.” However, experts have questioned the accuracy of the statement. As board chair of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom, Mackey has a fiduciary duty to the nonprofit corporation. Attorney Gene Takagi from the NEO Law Group emailed: “All directors of a nonprofit corporation have fiduciary duties of care and loyalty to the corporation.”

Complaints were submitted on January 11 to the IRS and California Office of the Attorney General questioning business activities and religious organization status of the Center for Integral Wisdom. Success 3.0, “an independent LLC generated by the Center for Integral Wisdom,” has the earmarks of a for-profit business. Mackey has been named in both complaints as board chair of CIW.

CIW websites have been scrubbed of pages showing Mackey’s position as board chair and Success 3.0 Summit Leadership. Here are screenshots from the removed pages, as they appeared on January 3:

Brad Hecht, Vice President and Chief Research Officer at Reputation Institute emailed this statement:

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. Reputation Institute’s research has shown that the two dimensions of corporate leadership and corporate governance make up almost one-third of Whole Foods Market’s overall reputation, and directly influence the willingness of consumers to buy and support Whole Foods vs. other alternatives. 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.

Reputation Institute’s statement is a stain on Whole Foods’ previously pristine report card. WFM had issued a press release on September 30, 2015, announcing, “Whole Foods Market named one of America’s most reputable companies for corporate social responsibility by Reputation Institute.”

On January 20, Vice President Joe Biden addressed business leaders at Davos, as reported by The Huffington Post:

“Joe Biden On Violence Against Women: ‘We have to change the culture.’”

“Biden implored men to speak up if they see instances of harassment and abuse of women, saying that ‘the most cowardly men I know are the ones who know it’s happening, but do nothing because it’s not good for them.'”

Biden’s speech was co-hosted by Goldman Sachs, the third-largest institutional investor in Whole Foods Market. You can read more about Goldman’s corporate social responsibility in my previous post on Epic Times.

So why isn’t The Times following up on its Whole Foods-Gafni story? Biden’s speech at Davos made it clear that addressing violence against women needs to be a priority for business leaders. Yet the CEO of Whole Foods Market, a $9 billion global company (market cap), has doubled down on his alliance with an alleged serial predator. And the company backed him up. Mackey’s enabling of Gafni is emblematic of a larger cultural problem. Who is holding Mackey and Whole Foods accountable? Where is the watchdog journalism?

An interesting sidebar: Gabrielle Sulzberger has served on the Whole Foods Market board of directors since 2003. Mrs. Sulzberger is married to Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of The New York Times. According to Whole Foods Market proxy statement to shareholders, reported as of July 20, 2015, Mrs. Sulzberger’s 2014 total compensation for her role as director on the Whole Foods Market board was $422,049. As of June 18, 2015 SEC reporting, Mrs. Sulzberger held 64,666 shares of WFM stock. At yesterday’s closing price, market value of her WFM stock is about $1.8 million. 

I’m not suggesting The Times’ one-and-done coverage of the Whole Foods-Gafni situation is related to Mrs. Sulzberger’s financial interests in WFM; only noticing that the connection exists. As of this writing, no one from The Times has responded to email inquiries.

I reached Mrs. Sulzberger by telephone on December 29 and asked if I could email her The Times story about Whole Foods CEO Mackey and Gafni. She gave me her email address, to which I sent this:

“Thank you for inviting me to email you about this story from Saturday’s New York Times….  I trust that the Whole Foods Market board of directors would agree that its CEO publicly supporting a[n alleged] sexual predator is not aligned with nor representative of Whole Foods Market’s core values and integrity.”

Mrs. Sulzberger responded, thanking me for bringing the story her attention, and correcting my use of the word “invite.” Rather, she said, she had agreed to my request to email her the story.

I thanked Mrs. Sulzberger for responding and stood corrected: I apologized for my incorrect use of the word “invite.”

I invite The New York Times to take this opportunity to improve its record on responsible investigative journalism. While The Times can be commended for publishing the Gafni exposé in the first place, Margaret Sullivan’s column is a mandate for follow-up reporting. For the sake of all women and girls who have been have been seriously hurt by abuse, and to precipitate change in our cultural narrative, “She was 14 going on 35” mustn’t mark the end of The Times’ reporting, but rather, its beginning.

New York Times Goes Silent on Alleged Sex Abuser Rabbi