Originally published on 16 Feb 10. Updated on 28 Mar 10 to include #WhatYouCanDo">notice that Australia Talks will be covering this topic on Wed 3 Apr 10.
Over five years ago, against the clear wishes of and vigorous protests by local residents, Woolworths commenced construction of a supermarket in the rural town of Maleny aided by a 200-strong police invasion ordered by the State Government of then Premier Peter Beattie. The supermarket was built almost on top of a dense and active network of platypus burrows on the banks of the Obi Obi Creek. This network was knowingly trashed by the developer. In spite of the platypus being a protected species, they got away with it.
In 2010, Woolworths appears similarly intent on building another supermarket in the quite far northern rural New South Wales town of Mullumbimby against the wishes of 87% of residents, according to one opinion poll run by the Northern Star newspaper.
However, Mullumbimby residents are determined not to let their town suffer the same fate as Maleny. They have begun an active campaign to stop Woolworths, which included the placement of an advertisement in the Financial Review newspaper of 15 February. It is reproduced below as a HTML document instead of a PDF document.#main-fn1">1
Further below we include, as an #OpenLetter">appendix, "An Open Letter to Woolworths from Mullumbimby", by Tricia Shantz, Secretary
of Mullumbimby Forum
#SeeAlso" id="SeeAlso">See also: "War on Woolworths escalates" by Digby Hildreth in the Northern Star of 16 Feb 10, "Mullumbimby acts to stop Woolies" on ABC Radio's The World Today of 15 Feb 10, "Supermarket battlefield" by Kate O'Neill in the Northern Star of 29 Sep 09, "Group forms to oppose Tesco" of 9 Feb 09 in Indymedia about group formed in the UK to fight against retail giant.
#WhatYouCanDo" id="WhatYouCanDo">What you can do: (Updated 28 Mar 10) Phone Australia Talks on 1300 22 55 76 on Tue 30 Mar 10 after 6.00PM news to express your opposition to big supermarket chains destroying the lifestyles of small communities (topic is "Impact of Big Box on small communities"), Vote against Woolies in Northern Star online poll, Contact groups fighting against Woolworths, including Mullumbimby Forum at magicalmullum.com and the Mullumbimby Community Action Network at www.mullumaction.org and don't shop at Woolworths.
Fight back. Keep the magic
#OpenLetter" id="OpenLetter">Appendix: An Open Letter to Woolworths from Mullumbimby
Originally published in Food Week on 15 February 2009.
Mr. James Strong AO
1 Woolworths Way
Bella Vista, NSW 2153
Cc Mr. Peter Horton
General Counsel & Company Secretary
Dear Mr. Strong
Re: Woolworths v. Mullumbimby ? a shareholder value & sustainability issue
As Chairman of Directors for Woolworths Limited, one of Australia's biggest companies, you hold a most important position representing the interests of nearly 400,000 individual shareholders, many of them quintessential 'mum and dad' Australian investors. While we know that the Directors and Executives of Woolworths are professional and diligent in delivering value to their investors, we also believe that you are committed to corporate social responsibility and sustainability as part of core business practice.
We therefore have no hesitation in writing to you personally to highlight the current community resistance that Woolworths faces as it seeks to expand its vast retail network to our magical town of Mullumbimby, in the iconic Byron Shire in far northern NSW. In pushing to establish a major new commercial hub outside of our town's existing central business area, Woolworths is presenting an unwelcome threat to the identity, amenity and long?term viability of a unique community. We don't use the word unique lightly.
Mullumbimby is surrounded by natural beauty and rural enterprise. This is a successful community where locals greet one another as they pop in and out of shops in the main street. You can buy locally grown fruit and vegetables at the green grocers and farmers' markets, and meat from the region at the butchers, making us real fresh food people. The proprietors and employees are local people and their businesses nurture a vibrant local economy. We fear that a big?box supermarket away from the main street puts all of this under a cloud of inappropriate development.
The situation in Mullumbimby is unfortunate to say the least -- in our eyes a case of Might v. Mullum that goes to the heart of a community's right to shape and determine its own character and destiny. Woolworths gained approval for its controversial store plan against overwhelming local community and Byron Shire Council opposition because the NSW Planning Minister was able to take over the decision on the development of state-owned railway land. It subsequently has fought Byron Council in the NSW Land and Environment Court over constraints relating to the area's development moratorium imposed due to inadequate sewage system capacity.
When the community was invited to vote on the Woolies plan by a local newspaper, the Northern Star, the survey showed opposition at 87 percent. We believe unswervingly that the people in our community, one of Australia's most distinctive towns, are best qualified to say what they want and need. We reject totally that a Woolworths in Mullumbimby is inevitable, and we know other communities around Australia feel the same way. We simply don't buy the typical developer claims that a large new supermarket will create jobs, increase diversity of choice and provide convenience. Quite the reverse, we fear diverse businesses in the heart of our town face being commercially gutted, jobs lost, and the strong social focus of the main street lost.
As a Woolworths' Director we ask you to consider these questions: If Might prevails over Mullum will that be in the best interests of shareholders? And should a big company be able to tell a small town what it needs? We ask that you consider potential damage to reputation associated with protracted disputation with the Mullumbimby community, especially given the likely very small financial gains from establishing a store in Mullumbimby. Please weigh that against the bigger?ticket expansion opportunities and challenges that Woolworths faces as it pursues new retail sectors as well as new geographical locations. You may well ponder more questions: Are such localised conflicts counter?productive, focusing unhelpful attention on Woolies' market dominance? And is Mullumbimby's view really worth the climb for Woolies?
Our united belief is that Woolworths and Mullumbimby are not compatible, whatever relatively minor modifications you might make to the store such as rainwater tanks, sewage cart?out and roof?top solar cells. Our campaign of advertisements that have run or are running in our local newspapers and the Australian Financial Review underscores the depth of feeling in the Mullumbimby community. We are determined to pursue this matter as both community members and as shareholder activists for as long as it takes to gain a reprieve for Mullumbimby.
We ask that you tell the Woolworths Executive Leadership Team that being at loggerheads with the Mullumbimby community is a clear conflict with the best interests of shareholders, and with corporate social responsibility at the community level. This is what Woolworths says about itself: As Australia's largest food retailer and second largest private employer, Woolworths recognises we have a high level of social responsibility. And we take these responsibilities seriously. We've implemented a broad range of community and environmental initiatives to help give back to our customers and the local communities that support us.
So what does Woolworths do when local communities don't support it? Does it ride roughshod over community opinion? Or does it know when it's time to be respectful and to pull back? Our position is simple: the Directors and Executives of Woolworths should show real social responsibility by listening to what a small town has to say ... and then leave Mullumbimby alone!
We look forward to your response and would welcome a meeting with Woolworths Executives.
#main-fn1" id="main-fn1">1. #main-fn1-txt">↑ The advertisement occupied the bottom roughly 60% of page 11 in landscape format, with the images to the left of the text. Above we have roughly reproduced the advertisement, but with the images, instead, on top of the text. The original advertisement can be downloaded as a 4Mb pdf file here.