Dis-Chem has backtracked on its moratorium on the appointment and promotion of white people following threats of a boycott and legal action.
The dispute started on 19 September when Dis-Chem CEO Ivan Saltzman released a letter which prohibited the appointment and promotion of white people.
Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann published the letter on Twitter on 13 October, causing a backlash against Dis-Chem from politicians, business leaders, and the public.
Despite the opposition to its actions, Dis-Chem stood by its plan to ensure no white people were appointed or promoted at the retailers.
The Dis-Chem board said it regrets “the wording and tone of an internal memorandum” but stood by its intention.
The company added that a News24 report it had withdrawn its moratorium on hiring whites was inaccurate.
“The wording of the letter has been withdrawn, but the transformation intention remains,” Dis-Chem told Daily Investor.
It indicated that Dis-Chem did not withdraw its moratorium on the appointment and promotion of white people.
Legal action and boycott threats
Yesterday, Solidarity announced that it would take legal action against Dis-Chem for its decision to block the appointment and promotion of white people.
Solidarity argued that Dis-Chem goes beyond what the Employment Equity Act allows in terms of transformation.
Hermann said the Employment Equity Act prohibits absolute ceilings and quotas and requires flexibility.
“There are legal bounds to race legislation. Dis-Chem is now setting a new norm for the private sector. The law cannot be broken to comply with an Act,” Hermann said.
Apart from legal action, Dis-Chem also faced a growing threat of a boycott, with many high-profile leaders calling on people to avoid the pharmacy group.
Social media was awash with South Africans saying that Dis-Chem went too far and that they would take their business elsewhere.
Dis-Chem backtracks on “no whites” policy
The civil and legal action was effective in forcing Dis-Chem to backtrack on its “no whites” policy.
The company said in a statement that there is “simply no ban on employing and promoting white individuals”.
It is the first time that Dis-Chem has stated that its moratorium on the appointment and promotion of white people has been withdrawn.
Previously, the company avoided commenting on the policy. It was likely that it first wanted to see what the impact of this policy would be.
When it realised that civil and legal action had gained momentum, it decided to officially withdraw its ban on white people.
Dis-Chem has undoubtedly suffered reputational damage, but it is unclear whether the retailer suffered a loss in business since the debacle started.