Boycott - Application and Uses

Application and Uses

A boycott is normally considered a one-time affair designed to correct an outstanding single wrong. When extended for a long period of time, or as part of an overall program of awareness-raising or reforms to laws or regimes, a boycott is part of moral purchasing, and those economic or political terms are to be preferred.

Most organized consumer boycotts today are focused on long-term change of buying habits, and so fit into part of a larger political program, with many techniques that require a longer structural commitment, e.g. reform to commodity markets, or government commitment to moral purchasing, e.g. the longstanding boycott of South African businesses to protest apartheid already alluded to. These stretch the meaning of a "boycott."

Boycotts are now much easier to successfully initiate due to the Internet. Examples include the gay and lesbian boycott of advertisers of the "Dr. Laura" talk show, gun owners' similar boycott of advertisers of Rosie O'Donnell's talk show and (later) magazine, and gun owners' boycott of Smith & Wesson following that company's March 2000 settlement with the Clinton administration. They may be initiated very easily using either Web sites (the Dr. Laura boycott), newsgroups (the Rosie O'Donnell boycotts), or even mailing lists. Internet-initiated boycotts "snowball" very quickly compared to other forms of organization.

Viral Labeling is a new boycott method using the new digital technology proposed by the Multitude Project and applied for the first time against Walt Disney around Christmas time in 2009.

Another form of consumer boycotting is substitution for an equivalent product; for example, Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola have been marketed as substitutes for Coca-Cola among Muslim populations.

Academic boycotts have been organized against countries. For example, the mid and late 20th century academic boycotts of South Africa in protest of apartheid practices and the more recent academic boycotts of Israel.

Some boycotts center on particular businesses, such as recent protests regarding Costco, Walmart, Ford Motor Company, or the diverse products of Philip Morris. Another form of boycott identifies a number of different companies involved in a particular issue, such as the Sudan Divestment campaign, the Boycott Bush campaign. The Boycott Bush website was set up by Ethical Consumer after U.S. President George W. Bush failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – the website identifies Bush's corporate funders and the brands and products they produce. Today a prime target of boycotts is consumerism itself, e.g. "International Buy Nothing Day" celebrated globally on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

Another version of the boycott is targeted divestment, or disinvestment. Targeted divestment involves campaigning for withdrawal of investment, for example the Sudan Divestment campaign involves putting pressure on companies, often through shareholder activism, to withdraw investment that helps the Sudanese government perpetuate genocide in Darfur. Only if a company refuses to change its behavior in response to shareholder engagement does the targeted divestment model call for divestment from that company. Such targeted divestment implicitly excludes companies involved in agriculture, the production and distribution of consumer goods, or the provision of goods and services intended to relieve human suffering or to promote health, religious and spiritual activities, or education.

As a response to consumer boycotts of large-scale and multinational businesses, some companies have begun marketing brands which, though formally owned by the parent corporation, do not bear the company's name on the packaging or in advertising. Activists such as Ethical Consumer produce information on which companies own which brands and products to enable consumers to practice boycotts or moral purchasing more effectively.

"Boycotts" may be formally organized by governments as well. In reality, government "boycotts" are just a type of embargo. It is notable that the first formal, nationwide act of the Nazi government against German Jews was a national embargo of Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933.

Where the target of a boycott derives all or part of its revenues from other businesses, as a newspaper does, boycott organizers may address the target's commercial customers.

When students are dissatisfied with a political or academic issue, a common tactic for students' unions is to start a boycott of classes (called a student strike among faculty and students since it is meant to resemble strike action by organized labor) to put pressure on the governing body of the institution, such as a university, vocational college or a school, since such institutions cannot afford to have a cohort miss an entire year.

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