An Open Letter from Advocacy Leaders: Will Whole Foods CEO “Get Real” About Sexual Assault Awareness Month?

John Mackey to lead “Get Real” session at Conscious Capitalism 2017 conference in Philadelphia, April 18–20

Dear leaders of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.:

We noticed this announcement about your annual conference in Philadelphia, April 18–20: “Conscious Capitalism, Inc., the nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business, announced today the addition of a ‘Get Real with…’ session featuring Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO, John Mackey.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As Conscious Capitalism’s founding board member, will Mackey “get real” about changing the culture of sexual violence? Will Conscious Capitalism leaders “get real” about holding him accountable?

In December 2016, an open letter from 130 advocates to board members of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. urged “sexual violence accountability.” Published by Feminine Collective, and signed by leaders from organizations including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) and Faculty Against Rape (FAR), the letter urged Mackey to disavow spiritual leader Marc Gafni.

The New York Times first reported Mackey’s affiliation with Gafni, a former rabbi facing allegations of sexual abuse, in December 2015. The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers: “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”

The Times also reported:

“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.”

Following the Times story, The NY Daily News reported Gafni denying allegations. According to the News, Gafni stated his underage accusers in the 1980s, then 13 and 16, were willing partners.

Sara Kabakov identified herself as the then-girl whom Gafni described as “14 going on 35.” She came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni’s Abuse Began.”

More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders, led by New York Rabbi David Ingber, undersigned a petition to Whole Foods: “Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again.” The petition cited “many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent.”

The Washington Post reported on coordinated protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles in May 2016:

“‘There’s a culture of silence around [child sexual abuse]. I believe Whole Foods has an opportunity to really shape that conversation,’ said activist Matthew Sandusky, the adopted son of former Penn State coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.”

Mackey issued a statement in June. In it, he said:

“I have known Marc Gafni for several years, and he has continued to tell me that he is innocent of the allegations being made about him. Loyalty and the presumption of innocence are important values to me, so I will not join those who are condemning him.”

An undated “Marc Gafni Statement” on the Whole Foods Market Newsroom site says Mackey “chose not to renew his role on the Board of Directors” of Gafni’s center.

A June update on Mackey’s Whole Foods Market Blog states his involvement with Gafni is “strictly a personal relationship.”

In November, soon after video revealed Donald Trump’s vulgar brag, “grab them by the p***y,” Gafni tweeted: “Donald Trump is an Outrageous Lover.”

Mackey did not respond to the open letter from 130 advocates, urging him to revise his statement of loyalty, and disavow Gafni.

In February 2017, a consortium of advocacy groups organized a protest at Mackey’s keynote speech at Conscious Capitalism, Inc. in San Francisco, where the organization is headquartered.

The protest was organized by Peaceful Hearts Foundation (founded by Matthew Sandusky), the Stop Abuse Campaign, Protect NY Kids, and SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the organization featured in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight).

Protest speakers included members of RAINN Speakers Bureau, part of the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), the country’s first rape crisis center.

[Watch video: former model, activist Nikki DuBose speaks at San Francisco protest]​​​

Business and ethics experts, including professors from Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Emory University, have criticized Mackey’s loyalty to Gafni.

Gafni has never been charged with a crime. He is exemplar on a petition to New York state lawmakers, urging them to pass the Child Victims Act, proposed statute of limitations reform for claims of child sexual abuse. The petition has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged his support for the bill.

Andrew Willis, CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign said:

“New York state’s statute of limitations laws, some of the strictest in the nation, protect sexual predators and not the children they prey on. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse continue to be silenced by New York’s laws. The Child Victims Act allows survivors to hold their abusers responsible and protect today’s children. Whole Foods CEO Mackey’s statement of loyalty to Gafni, who is protected by statutes of limitations, perpetuates the culture of enabling. Mackey should disavow his friend.”

In Pennsylvania, where Mackey will “get real” next week, advocacy leaders are also lobbying for statute of limitations reform. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape joined a group of Pennsylvania legislators led by State Rep. Mark Rozzi who said, “Pennsylvania has the opportunity to be on the right side of change. We no longer want to be known nationally as the epicenter for child sexual abuse.”

Will Mackey “get real” about changing the culture of sexual violence, revise his statement of loyalty to Gafni, and disavow his friend? Will Conscious Capitalism leaders “get real” about holding Mackey accountable?

Changing the culture of sexual violence is on all of us. Let’s get real about elevating humanity.

Thank you for your consideration.


Matthew Sandusky, Founder and Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Andrew Willis, Founder and CEO, Stop Abuse Campaign

MonaLisa Wallace, Esq. Civil Rights Activist & Pacific Regional Director

Bill Murray, Founder and CEO, NAASCA (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse)

Melanie Sakoda, Regional Director, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

Sandra Potter, CEO and Founder, Dreamcatchers for Abused Children

Christine Gordon, Founder & Director of Education, Cultures of Consent

Elizabeth Puloka, Executive Director, Cultures of Consent

Steven Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC, Founding Director, Freedom of Mind Resource Center

Jill Jones-Soderman, Director, Foundation for the Child Victims of the Family Courts, FCVFC

Julie L. Golston, Certified Rape Crisis Counselor, Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator, Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)

Tarhata Brazsal, MSN, RN, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner, Founder, manKIND, Public Speaker, RAINN Speakers Bureau

Mike Pistorino, Survivor, Activist, Public Speaker

Rabbi David A. Ingber, Founder and Senior Rabbi, Romemu

Wendy Murphy, J.D., Adjunct Professor of Sexual Violence Law at New England Law|Boston

Doug White, Former Director, Graduate Program in Nonprofit Fundraising Management, Columbia University, author The Nonprofit Challenge: Integrating Ethics into the Purpose and Promise of Our Nation’s Charities

Julie Anderson, Creator and Publisher, Feminine Collective

Nancy Levine, Survivor, Activist, Author

Like what you read? Give Nancy Levine a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.