Consumer Boycotts: Reasons for Boycotts
Whenconsumer product companies adopt harmful policies or engage in unfair business practices, consumers often band together and refuse to buy the companies’ products until they change their offensive practices. Avon, Anheuser-Busch, American Airlines, Bristol-Myers, Bumble Bee Seafoods, Burger King, Campbell’s Soup, Chrysler, Clorox, Domino’s Pizza, Exxon, General Motors, General Electric, KFC, Johnson’s Wax, Nestlé, Nike, Marathon Oil, Marlboro, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Philip Morris Company, Procter & Gamble, Purina, and Target are just a few of the major companies that have at one time been boycotted.
As part of the social justice movement, American consumers have been encouraged by various political, protest, and social-awareness groups representing such movements as environmental protection and animal rights to resist buying various products. Such boycotts are meant to help the groups achieve either political or social goals and to right perceived wrongs. However, the refusal of consumers to purchase products as a means of protest to bring about social change is not a recent phenomenon. In an effort to bring attention to the plight of Jews under the German Nazi regime, in 1933 the United States boycotted German goods. As an act of passive resistance in India, Mahatma Gandhi instigated a boycott of British products—which he called “baubles of Britain”—that helped bring about Indian independence. During the 1980’s, corporations banded together and refused to purchase South African products to oppose that country’s apartheid regime.
Historically, consumer boycotts have been viewed as authentically American. Indeed, boycotts have played a significant role in American history. For instance, before the American Revolution, colonists opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, which required them to purchase tax stamps from Britain. They boycotted British-made goods for a year, leading to the repeal of the Stamp Act and, ultimately, the establishment of the United States of America. Similarly, in 1830, northern Americans protested slavery by refusing to purchase slave-produced products such as tobacco and sugar.
Other examples of boycotts that received a great deal of publicity are the boycott of the anti-Semitic Henry Ford’s manufactured automobiles and the grape and lettuce boycott led by César Chávez and his United FarmWorkers union between the 1960’s and the 1990’s. The French opposition to the Iraq War also led to boycotts in the United States against French wines.