Boycotts are organized attempts to influence a company, organization, or government through refusal to patronize a business or other group. Boycotts are frequently used to affect business practices. Sometimes boycotts are organized to challenge labor
or environmental issues; other times they are used to sway social practices or policies.
In the United States, possibly the most famous boycott was organized by the United Farm Workers
(UFW). During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, led by charismatic UFW President César Chávez, the UFW asked American consumers to not purchase table grapes, claiming unfair labor practices and poor working conditions by grape farmers. By 1975 an estimated 17 million Americans had stopped buying grapes. In another agricultural boycott, the UFW used a direct mail
campaign asking consumers to boycott Lucky Supermarkets because they were buying nonunion lettuce. The campaign targeted ethnic neighborhoods, areas with high agricultural employment
, and liberal, middle and high-income
groups. After nine months Lucky agreed to stop buying nonunion lettuce but claimed the decision had nothing to do with the boycott.
Peace and environmental groups have often attempted to use boycotts to influence government policy. In 1990 Neighbor to Neighbor initiated a boycott of Folgers coffee, a Proctor and Gamble product
, accusing P&G of prolonging the El Salvadoran civil war by buying Salvadoran coffee beans. The campaign brought attention to the plight of El Salvadorans but was actively opposed by the Bush administration. (The war ended when the Clinton administration withdrew financial support for the El Salvadoran military.) Similarly, American and other activists have long supported a boycott of Burma (now called Myanmar) because of its military rule and abuse of human rights. In 1995 U.S. environmental groups organized a short-lived protest of French products in reaction to France's nuclear tests in the South Pacific.
Boycotts are also used to influence social and political policies. The Boston Tea Party was one of America's first boycotts. Similarly, one of the hallmarks of the civil rights era was the 1950s boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott of South Africa in the 1980s displayed the power of economic sanctions
to influence social policies. As one author states, “Boycott. It's not blackmail. It's not censorship. What it is is capitalism
. A boycott, after all, is merely a way to vote with our wallets.”
In 1994 the National Organization of Women organized a boycott against orange juice when the Florida Citrus Commission
decided to advertise on conservative Rush Limbaugh's talk show. Limbaugh supporters countered by increasing their purchases of orange juice. In 1996 Jesse Jackson threatened a boycott of Texaco stores in an effort to pressure Texaco to settle a racial discrimination suit. The next year Southern Baptists attempted to dissuade the Disney corporation
from its gayfriendly employment policies by declaring a boycott against the company. In 1999 the NAACP organized a boycott of tourism in South Carolina because the state continued to fly the Confederate flag over its state capitol. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) joined the boycott, refusing to bring collegiate athletic events to the state. Removal of the flag from the capital
to a place on the capital grounds appeased some groups.
Kalisher, Jesse. “Art of Noise (Impact of Boycotts),” Brandweek 39, no. 18 (4 May 1998): 66.