Friday, September 14, 2012

Boycotting: A Clarification

I am a little bit of a couch-potato activist myself, and I am known to participate in quite a few boycotts. I get criticized about this a lot, because I feel that there are many misconceptions that those who are even lazier than I am use to discredit those that participate in boycotts. I was reminded of some of these by one of TheYoungTurks's videos I saw yesterday:

So obviously the hosts are saying come on, it's silly to boycott someone's business because of their political views, or because they support the president. Not that people don't have the right to boycott whatever they like, obviously, but I agree that this particular reason for boycotting a place of business is stupid. Immediately, the right-wing voice of the youtube commenters riles up in protest. BIAS! YOU'RE BIASED! What about the Chick-Fil-A boycott hmmm? Didn't think it was so stupid to boycott a place of business when it was against Republicans!! 

Ugh, I've heard this either-think-all-boycotts-are-equally-valid-or-fuck-off argument before, and I feel that I need to clarify. These are the circumstances under which I personally will boycott a business, and while of course I cannot speak for everyone, I think that I have a logical basis for choosing to do so. 

1. When the business/owner(s) give money to causes I abhor

This, for me, is the most obvious reason to boycott a business. In the case of Chick-Fil-A, the company donated enormous amounts of money to organizations that spend that money trying to deny Americans equal rights under the law. That means that, if I was to spend money there, part of my money would be donated to a cause that I loathe. I don't want my money to go to any such organization.

Now I don't live in the United States, so I can only support the boycott from afar and not actively participate in it, but there are other products that I do not buy for the same reasons: you're not going to find l'Oreal shampoo in my bathroom, that's for sure.

2. When the companies themselves profit from disgusting practices

I will not help a company to profit off of pain and suffering, but this is the one that I get criticized the most for. This is the reason that I will not buy anything from Nestlè, but far too many people are willing to look past killing children in Africa when reaching for their KitKat bar. I'm sorry, there's no chocolate in the world that tastes good enough for me to say "hmm, give money to a company that is unrepentant in the suffering that it causes for a Lion bar? Yea, having a lion bar is way more important". Fuck that. It is also the reason I always buy Fair Trade chocolate: chocolate is a commodity, a vice, and one of the least ethically produced foods there is. If I can't afford to buy it Fair Trade, I don't have to buy it, I don't need it to survive.

This is where misconception number 2 comes in: people will say to me "yea, you think you're going to bring Nestlè down to its knees because you wont buy their cereal? Way to feel self-important! You can't change it, so why bother putting in the effort?" No, I don't think that I am going to change things. But I hate this idea that I have no choice in this consumer-based capilist society. I, as a consumer, can choose which companies I give my money to and which ones I don't. I, as a consumer, would not feel right about telling companies like Nestlè go ahead! You can eat a live wriggling African baby and I'll still give you my money! No, I wont, regardless of how much impact my decision has on the company.

And like it or not, in a very slow way, these decisions are making a difference. In the past 10 years I've seen fair trade items explode on the market. I've seen documentaries on the subject, awareness being spread and more and more companies jumping on the bandwagon.

Enter, if you please, misconception number 3: "Pfft, you think that Starbucks is taking part in this fair trade crap because the owners are nice and cuddly? Because they actually care about people? Please! It's so they can charge 10% more and boost their sales!" Well guess what, i don't care. I don't care if their reasons are greed and not social justice. The fact that they are doing the right thing is enough for me, regardless of what pushed them to do it. So long as they actually abide by the standards that qualify as fair trade, and that those standards are not drastically reduced in order to render them meaningless, I. don't. care. The fact that there are workers who get health care, enough to eat and can send their kids to school is enough reason for me to spend an extra 80 cents on chocolate. 

3. When the company actively discriminates against a group of people

This one is a little trickier, because I need real proof that the business in question is discriminating against people. The whole Gelato-Gate incident is a prime example, but if I was also presented with evidence of a business firing someone for being gay or refusing to hire Muslims I would react in the same way.

The reason I say it is tricky is because I draw the line at someone being a bigot themselves. I think that you're a crappy person if you're a bigot, and I might not be your friend, but I wont boycott you're business because you're ignorant. You are free to think whatever you want, but the moment that your thoughts and prejudices negatively impact innocent people? That's when I get mad, and decide that I cannot support you.

So this brings me to conclude when I wont boycott a business:

1. When the owner has a different opinion than my own about something
2. When the owner is religious
3. When the owner is privately ignorant
4. When the owner is of a different political ideology

Is that clear enough for the boycott-haters, do you think?

And are there any other circumstances under which you would, or would not, boycott a business?

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