For years now, Woolworths’s AGMs have been unusually sombre affairs. The grim mood was not helped by what was essentially a hijacking of the 2015 AGM by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was determined to punish Woolworths for importing a rather meagre selection of goods from Israel. BDS may have had little effect on Woolworths's purchasing policy but it left an indelible mark on the conduct of the group’s AGMs. They now take place in the midst of tight security, which is off-putting for all but the most determined. It might explain why this year the audience — 100 or so people —comprised a large chunk of Woolworths’s employees. Whatever the employees were there for, it was not to ask questions. And, remarkably, given the R7bn write-off on the Australian adventure and the appalling missteps with the local clothing division, few shareholders had bothered to turn up to quiz the board. We are left to assume that following the group’s worst year since it liste...

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