Why the Boycott Isn’t Working
With a little self-examination, it is easy to align ourselves to values and social morals that keep us feeling comfortable and productive. And so we continue to live our lives in ways that uphold those values: we obey the law, act kind towards one another, and make small but positive changes towards a better future for us and our children. Why is it then, that we feel compelled to boycott companies that don’t share those values. And what is it about the boycott that just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
We are too informed. Back when boycott was effective, we were dependent on those we trusted to convey the message to us via mail, television, or word-of-mouth. You would never see an email urging friends and family to “boycott” the Super Bowl due to a tasteless ad or to quit buying gas on a particular day in protest of rising gas prices. Because information was slow to come, it had to be deliberate, accurate, and pretty darn important. For this reason, boycotts were limited to those issues of the utmost priority. Now everyone knows everything about every company and every brand. (If you don’t believe me, just check out the boycott section on Snopes.) Being fickle took a lot out of the boycott.
We are too concerned. Civil rights were on the minds of everyone back in Rosa Park’s day. It was easy to see how a boycott of the bus system would affect everyone, participating or not. Now there are too many issues to really stand behind any one virtue. Do we boycott the wearing of leather? How about corporate greed? Can we boycott companies that practice sexual discrimination? Do we avoid purchasing from stores that sell cheap lead-filled toys? Take your pick of social agendas, and for each one you pledge yourself to, there will be 100 more clamoring for your attention. We are just spreading ourselves way too thin.
People get hurt. If a large global company were to suddenly see a loss of millions of dollars, who would suffer that loss? I am guessing not the higher-ups making the immoral decisions, but more than likely the every day workers who are just trying to make a living for their family. We have already seen jobs sent overseas in hopes of achieving a higher profit margin. Do you think this practice would increase or decrease in light of an unprofitable fiscal quarter due to a boycott? Even in the most financially ill corporations, some CEO’s will feel justified in giving themselves raises -- even when factory lines are being cut by deep numbers. Many of us just aren’t willing to subject anyone to the carnage that a successful boycott could leave behind.
Companies are complicated. In order to pull-off a proper boycott, you really need to know your corporate genealogy. If you boycott Coca-cola, for instance, you would need to know all of its subsidiaries, service offerings, and umbrella brands and partnerships. In some larger companies, this is very difficult to do. In many, it is almost impossible to separate the entanglement that comes when companies expand and join forces with other great global companies. In order to be effective, however, it must be effectively done.
Am I suggesting that boycotts never be done? Of course not. One of the things that I love about our capitalistic country is that we can cast a vote with each dollar we spend. For some of us, it is more of a matter of picking our battles and making the big purchases (a car or house, for instance) really count. Others are content researching and tracking every purchase made to be sure that it falls in line with their philosophy of spending and morality.
As technology continues to bring massive amounts of free information in front of every man, woman, and child, we just may see an evolution of the boycott, and hopefully, a method of protest that will work. In the meantime, there are sites like KarmaBanque taking an interesting twist on the tradition. Others will find relief in the arms of class-action lawsuits, new legislation, and continuing to educate the world.
Just because the boycott rarely works, doesn’t mean we can’t try.