Whole Foods health-care boycott gathers momentum

Human Rights Watch
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 24, 2009

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Unfortunately for Whole Foods Market CEO and founder John Mackey, those who appreciate his store for the healthy, eco-friendly (read: left-leaning, progressive) lifestyle it promotes are the same citizens who support universal health care. Mackey alienated some of his customer base with a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week, in which he endorsed conservative health-care solutions and said, "the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system."  
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Among other things, Mackey's piece rejected the idea that health care is a basic right. "Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges," he wrote (though all three are enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights). "A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This 'right' has never existed in America."

In response, a campaign to boycott Whole Foods is burgeoning on the Internet. Loyal shoppers say they feel betrayed by Mackey's position, which, although it's his and not the company's, seems to go against his customers' values. On forums and Facebook pages, they're exchanging ideas of alternative places to buy their organic cheese and pristine produce (farmers' markets, Trader Joe's, local co-ops).

"Whole Foods has built its brand with the dollars of deceived progressives," organizers wrote on the "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page, which boasts more than 13,000 members. "Let them know your money will no longer go to support Whole Foods' anti-union, anti-health insurance reform, right-wing activities."

The movement has gained enough steam — and disgruntled consumers have been sufficiently vocal — to warrant the creation, on the company's Web site, of a Health Care Reform forum (more than 1400 discussion threads, and 10,000 posts so far). There, a hearty discussion of health-care policy has emerged; at the same time, Whole Foods has cultivated a new set of fans.

"We will be patronizing the stores even more now, because they are managed by a wise CEO," one commenter wrote. "Everyone who agrees that socialism is bad for the economy should patronize Whole Foods more to offset the idiotic boycott."

But even if they attract some unlikely new patrons, Whole Foods representatives know a potential PR nightmare when they see one.

"[I]t's very clear that John's piece offended some of our customers, other members of the communities we serve and some of our team members as well. We offer you our sincere apology," the company says in a letter distributed to customers and reporters. "John's Op/Ed piece was written in favor of health care reform. In response to President Obama's invitation to all Americans to put forward constructive ideas for reforming our health care system, John was asked to write an Op/Ed piece and he gave his personal opinion. John titled the piece 'Health Care Reform,' but an editor at the Journal rewrote the headline to call it 'Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare,' which led to antagonistic feelings by many. That was not John's intention — in fact, John does not mention the President at all in his piece. John has posted the unedited piece to his blog where people can read it as it was intended." (In addition to the headline modification, there are a few minor differences between the two versions.)

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