On Boycotts and Environmental Information

Do Not Buy

A boycott is, most commonly speaking, a social action by a group or organization requesting consumers to avoid a specific commercial product or the products of a particular company. The purpose of a boycott is to exert pressure on the company which will cause them to change their behavior. Boycotts have been called for a wide variety of reasons by both liberal and conservative groups.

Sometimes, a boycott can be highly effective. If the boycott gains sufficient attention in the media and the consumers the pressure against the targeted corporation or other entity can be sufficient to accomplish the desired end. Companies are sensitive about their public image - too much bad publicity is, naturally, undesirable.

Before becoming involved in a boycott, be sure to take the time to research it - read magazines such as Ethical Consumer, websites such as CorpWatch or Co-op America, but also be sure to do your own research. One important thing not to overlook is the dates on the information you find - if it's more than a year old, keep looking. Be sure that the boycott is still active!

Find out what issue is being challenged - look it up in news sources such as New York Times, or query it in search engines. Remember the most important feature of web research - don't trust everything you read!

Brief History of the Boycott

The first boycott occurred in 1880 as part of a political campaign against Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott. Captain Boycott was the land agent for Lord Erne, a major landowner in Ireland in the late 19th century. The Irish Land League, demanding fair rent and other economic rights, withheld labor from the harvest of Lord Erne's crops. When Boycott attempted to undermine the campaign, the League ostracized him within the village. This ostracization became the origin of the verb "to boycott", meaning "to ostracize". The boycott, by the way, was successful. Captain Boycott departed Ireland in December of that year.

The boycott, as a practice, has existed since at least 1830, despite the lack of this elegant terminology. At that time, a boycott against slave-produced goods was established by the National Negro Convention. Boycotts were later used extensively during the US civil rights movement, by Gandhi against British goods in India, and by the Arab oil producing countries against the Western world in 1973.

Examples of boycotts can be found in almost any period of history, since the definition of a boycott is loose enough to allow a wide variety of interpretations. Most civilizations, when on unfriendly terms with other groups, have established trade embargos. In many ways, the boycott is possibly one of the oldest forms of social protest.

I suggest reading the play Lysistrata, by Aristophanes - an excellent example of a boycott, in a manner of speaking, from 411 BCE.

Updated by Joe Dolson on 24 August, 2009

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