Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci has called for people to treat his team with respect amid a rise in anger and abuse directed at staff while apologising for his communication of the decision not to sell Australia Day merchandise.
In his first public comments on the issue, which appeared across advertisements in several newspapers including this masthead on Wednesday, Banducci said he was “asking everyone to treat our team with respect”, and writing to clarify the Woolworths decision.
“As a proud Australian and New Zealand retailer, we aren’t trying to ‘cancel’ Australia Day,” he said.
“As evidenced during COVID, or increasingly natural disasters… Woolworths will always support Australians in the moments that matter.”
Speaking on 2GB on Wednesday morning, Banducci said he was sorry about how the company communicated its decision.
“I think it would be fair to say, based on the response, we could have done a better job of communicating our decision,” he said.
“I’m sorry for the angst that it’s caused. What we have noticed is an unacceptable level of aggression towards our team, and it’s unfair to take it out on them.”
The comments come after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton urged consumers to boycott Woolworths over its decision to no longer stock Australia Day-themed merchandise, drawing accusations from the government that he was intent on dividing Australians.
Woolworths Group, which includes Big W, said it sold Australian flags year-round but confirmed this month it would no longer be selling additional merchandise such as thongs emblazoned with the Australian flag.
The supermarket chain has since faced incidents including two of its stores in Queensland being vandalised with messages about the Australia Day move.
A Woolworths spokesperson has previously said there had been a gradual decline in demand for Australia Day merchandise in its stores over recent years, but that there was also “broader discussion about 26 January and what it means to different parts of the community”.
Banducci reiterated that the decision not to stock specific Australia Day merchandise was a “straightforward commercial one” made based on steeply declining sales and the company’s focus on food.
He said while the store did stock some items that weren’t bought frequently, it was usually because those products could be left on the shelf all year, and that “hardly any” Australia Day merchandise ended up being sold each year.
“What are we going to do the day after Australia Day with items that don’t sell?” Banducci said on 2GB.
“They end up in landfill, or even worse, in the waterways of Australia. So, it’s just trying to be pragmatic on those decisions.”
Banducci said there were sensitivities around Australia Day that everyone should acknowledge and engage with, but that Woolworths would be “marking and celebrating the Australia Day long weekend” through food.
“We want everyone to make their choice with how they mark Australia Day,” he said.
While Banducci said Woolworths had not noticed a drop-off in sales more generally, he said the company had taken on board feedback and would conduct an assessment after the Australia Day weekend.
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Source: Thanks smh.com