Woolworths, the Australian supermarket and grocery store chain which also runs some pub and entertainment venues, is once again facing some hard time over its pub and entertainment division. The pressure that is being faced by the company is related to a Victorian council employees’ superannuation fund amounting to $9 billion which has been considering whether to dispose of its stake in the supermarket chain due to ethical investment reasons.
The 79 councils in Victoria are expected to vote on whether to make their industry super fund called Vision Super to dispose of its shares in Woolworths following the allegations that the company has been keeping detailed sensitive information about their customers. Currently, the stake of Vision Super in the Australian supermarket chain is estimated to $150 million.
The decision about the potential divestment is set to be put to a statewide meeting of the super fund’s councils in May. The allegations against the company emerged at the end of February and the beginning of March, after some whistleblowers who have previously worked at the supermarket and grocery chain’s majority-owned ALH Group reported that the company has secretly recorded and shared players’ personal information targeting more vulnerable gamblers.
Woolworths Faces Difficulties Following Misconduct Allegations
In case that the councils give the nod to the above-mentioned divestment, this could force the local government workers’ superannuation fund Vision Super to pull out its shares in the supermarket and grocery store chain unless the board of Woolworths agrees to publicly announce a decision to divest ALH Group by the end of 2018. The latter is operating as a joint venture between the Mathieson family and Woolworths with an estimated market share of AU$1.5 billion. Currently, it is the largest provider of poker machines in Australia, with over 12,000 gaming machines in the country.
The community superannuation fund Vision Super currently has 100,000 members and holds assets estimated to AU$9.2 billion. The fund, however, has a policy of not investing in companies which generate their revenue from weapons and armaments, and it has reportedly been considering to extend the policy to tobacco. The policy, however, does not involve gambling, which is why it is not yet certain whether the vote greenlight a divestment or not.
Recently, Woolworths’ reputation has been hurt by the misconduct allegations. The company’s practices have been investigated by federal and state authorities, with Woolworths having launched an independent investigation, too.
The whistleblowers’ evidence was first presented by the Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie. The evidence included shreenshots of an electronic database which was used across the ALH Group venues, with sensitive data about regular poker players, such as gambling and drinking habits, favourite sports teams, etc. According to allegations, the personal data was used by pub and entertainment venues stuff to encourage players play longer.