How Should Whole Foods Respond to a Scandal Involving the CEO’s Outside Activities?

[I]s it possible to be on the board of a nonprofit run by an alleged sex offender and not have this relationship rub off on your company? Whole Foods CEO John Mackey thinks so, but an online petition is pressuring him to leave the nonprofit think tank founded by Marc Gafni, a former orthodox rabbi turned new age guru who has left a trail of abuse, pain, and despair in his wake.

Mackey serves on the board of the Center for Integral Wisdom headed by Marc Gafni, who has been accused of sexual abuse, including sex with at least one underage girl.

A group of rabbis posted a petition on Change.org to pressure John Mackey, president of Whole Foods and board co-chair of CIW, along with other organizations to “stop Marc Gafni from abusing again.” So far, Mackey’s only statement is that his relationship with Gafni is personal and not related to Whole Foods. Mackey also removed his video interviews with Gafni from the Whole Foods website, claiming that this means he is leaving Whole Foods out of it.

But a CEO, especially a founder, is the public face of a company and Mackey is indistinguishable from the brand, as we saw when his anti-Obamacare comments led to calls for a boycott. His continued association with Gafni and his claim that it will not affect the brand calls into question his judgment and fitness. He should be insisting on a complete and thorough investigation of the charges, and, unless Gafni agrees to accept responsibility for his actions, Mackey should resign immediately from the Center’s board.

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