Boycotts are one of the oldest most effective forms of protest in human history. When profits decrease on something, and people are hit in the wallet, they typically take the consumers more seriously.
Consumers have more power than they believe.
While the first amendment protects everyone’s right to say anything they want and have any opinion in the world, it does not guard you against the consequences of saying those things, or of people disagreeing.
A boycott is defined as “To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, dealing with, or participating in as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion” or “withdraw[ing] from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.”
Boycotts are a form of nonviolent resistance, which is the practice of achieving goals (such as social change) through symbolic protests, boycotts, political noncooperation, or other methods.
Here’s some fun history of where the word “boycott” came from: According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition:
“An Englishman and former British soldier, Charles C. Boycott was the estate agent of the Earl of Erne in County Mayo, Ireland. The earl was one of the absentee landowners who as a group held most of the land in Ireland. Boycott was chosen in the fall of 1880 to be the test case for a new policy advocated by Charles Parnell, an Irish politician who wanted land reform. Any landlord who would not charge lower rents or any tenant who took over the farm of an evicted tenant would be given the complete cold shoulder by Parnell’s supporters. Boycott refused to charge lower rents and ejected his tenants. At this point members of Parnell’s Irish Land League stepped in, and Boycott and his family found themselves isolated — without servants, farmhands, service in stores, or mail delivery. Boycott’s name was quickly adopted as the term for this treatment, not just in English but in other languages such as French, Dutch, German, and Russian.”
Boycotts have a long history as being a driver of social change with companies and even governments.
The Ethical Consumer put together a list of some successful boycott campaigns in the last 20 years. Some of them are:
- In May 2019, the country of Brunei, a southeast Asian country, announced they would NOT impose the death penalty for people convicted of having anal sex after celebrities and companies (such as JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank) stated their intent to boycott Dorchester Collection, a chain of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei.
- In February 2018, many big companies cut ties with the NRA after the NRA called for teachers to be armed in schools and spoke out against young students who wanted better gun control laws after the Parkland shooting. Companies who boycotted the NRA after huge society backlash include Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Hertz, Best Western hotels, Wyndham hotels, Enterprise, and Avis.
- In July 2017, Picturehouse agreed to negotiate with its workers’ trade union, BECTU, following strikes and a consumer boycott of the cinema chain. The company had previously refused to meet with the union.
- In March 2016, Sea World ended all orca (“killer whale”) breeding programs and phased out the orca whale shows in all of their parks after big boycotts and pressure from animal rights activists and groups like PETA.
- In 2012, Mini Babybel offered an apology and withdrew a number of products after disability campaigners called for a boycott of their cheese after the company ran a marketing campaign that used the phrase “Mentally ill holidays.”
- In 2010, Nestle finally promised a zero deforestation policy in its palm oil supply chain after pressure from Greenpeace, they received over 200,000 emails from consumers, and activists demonstrated outside their headquarters. In 2012, Nestle also agreed to stop promoting its infant formula as “the natural start” after pressure from the Baby Milk Action boycott campaign.
- In 2010, after the largest-ever student boycott, Fruit of the Loom reopened their Honduran factory (which they closed after the workers unionized), gave 1200 employees their jobs back, awarded them $2.5 million in compensation, and restored union rights.
What does this mean to you?
It means you, as an individual, and us as a people have the ability to put our money where our mouths are and affect change around the world.
This holiday season and going into 2020, it’s important for us, as consumers, to drive change. For us to see injustices and do something about them.
One recent example of this is Chick-Fil-A. Chick-Fil-A has come under fire and boycotts due to its charitable arm making donations to organizations labeled as hate groups. Recently, they announced that they no longer will give to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army. In 2012, CEO Dan Cathy said that the company supported “‘the biblical definition of the family unit,’ calling it ‘prideful’ and ‘arrogant’ for individuals to define marriage.” It came out that they had donated millions to known hate groups like the Family Research Council.
He and the company faced an immediate and loud backlash from consumers, with millions of people boycotting Chick-Fil-A over the next few years. In the years since, they have ceased donations to many of the groups they’d previously given to and now say they “primarily focus on lower-income and underserved youth” programs.
While it would be impossible to thoroughly research every company we each come into contact with, it is important to keep things in mind like business practices and where your money is actually going.
This is true with charitable giving, too. I no longer donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation after it came out in 2012 that only 15% of its donations actually go to research. It also was the victim of a successful boycott and backlash, after they announced in 2012 that they were going to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, a decision that was very quickly reversed.
As a comparison, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation spends 92% of donated funds on research and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation spends 56% of theirs on research for a cure.
Fast Company wrote an article about the 5 Worst Charities in the United States, citing Kids Wish Network (which spent $3.2 million on granting wishes and an astounding $110 million on corporate fundraisers), Cancer Fund of America (in 10 years patients received less than $1 million in aid out of $98 million raised — less that the founder’s salary), Children’s Wish Foundation International ($600,000 on granting wishes, $6 million on fundraisers), American Breast Cancer Foundation (less than 10% on direct aid and 9x that on fundraisers), and Firefighters Charitable Foundation (less than 10% on direct aid and 90% on fundraisers).
It comes back to putting your money where your mouth — and your values — are. Give to organizations and spend money at places that treat people well, value their employees and the environment, and where you can feel good about supporting companies you respect.
Just as in freelancing, where if all freelancers were to stop accepting low-paying slave-wage rates, then companies would no longer offer those rates and would be forced to pay fair prices, the same holds true with our purchases and charitable giving.
The consumer dollar is extremely important to every company. If you don’t agree with how a company is doing business, do not support them.
I know it is easier said than done, but every little bit helps!