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.



Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

Hours: 10am – 3pm PT


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

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