To Boycott Or At Least To Try

The South African apartheid collapsed because of an international boycott. International pressure on businesses operating in Burma, now officially named Myanmar, forced the military government to hold superficial and controversial elections, though their power remains autocratic and strong. Boycotts of fossil fuel and apparel companies have affected the corporations’ rhetoric and philanthropic activities, if not their operations. An issue with boycotts is that it generally isn’t easy to find a morally acceptable alternative in the capitalist market. In fact, one brand is often connected to several others through their parent company. If you wish to engage in a boycott of Coca-Cola* you can’t buy Minute Maid, Odwalla, Honest Tea, or hundreds of other beverages. The authentic goal of boycotters is to radically engage in community in a new way and boycott the entire system of exploitative production we live in now.

Buycott is one app that allows consumers to scan products to see if they’re prohibited by the boycotts the user is engaged in. I can easily imagine that an eyewear technology in the future could visually and in real-time show a consumer which products in a grocery store they should and shouldn’t buy based on preference.

There is an ethical paradox for people, those who capitalism labels consumers, in a capitalist economy. The question of where, how, and why to boycott a corporation is not simple to answer. All corporations live off of exploitation to some degree. Labor comes to the negotiation table with a handicap at some point in the process of creating a viable product. Costs need to be cut somewhere and since the capitalists make the decisions, it won’t be in the owners’ compensation.

The workers who produce the materials and the clerks who man the stores are the best targets for exploitation in the labor-force. Outside of the company’s payroll, the environment, through pollution, and the state’s taxpayers, through the low-income employees’ needs for government assistance, are an open target for exploitation. What I’m saying is that there aren’t companies who, upon close enough inspection, wouldn’t deserve a boycott for some reason. Perhaps the boycott would be to reach a supplier of an extremely ethical corporation. Perhaps the boycott would be to reach the supplier of a supplier of two ethical corporation. Preferably the boycott would be a black and white case to end an injustice.

The benefits of boycotts are manifold. They allow ‘consumers’ to communicate with capitalists and powerful people in a manner that they have to listen to. They can provide a link of solidarity between consumers within imperialist nations and people living in poverty in the developing world, whose labor is often exploited by these major brands. And they act as a starting point to bring awareness to the activities of brands and governments around the world, as individual boycotters act as animated, socially connected advertisements for the cause.

I’m engaged in several boycotts to some extent. I explicitly do my best to boycott Israel, although when I undertook the Israel BDS I already owned a Motorola phone and a SodaStream. I avoid doing business with Microsoft and Apple, I currently use a Linux operating system on a second-hand Dell (Violating my boycott of Israel) computer. On the rare occasions that I put gas in a vehicle I won’t go to BP (Deepwater Horizon) or Shell (Nigeria), although this boycott is futile as Exxon (Valdez) is no paragon of responsible business. I don’t buy products affiliated with Nestle, Coca Cola, or Monsanto when I know who they come from.

The paradox of the boycott is immense. By boycotting one product a user is tacitly endorsing the, not necessarily superior, competition. A consumer who engaged in an absolute boycott on ethical practices they disapproved of could find themself without transportation or affordable food. The market is amoral and the conscientious consumer wants to end that. It isn’t impossible, a massive movement to boycott the entire system of capitalist production would be terrifying to the oligarchs. Millions of people intent on meeting their own food, medicine, clothing, shelter, energy, and transportation needs through revolutionary new communities could alter the path of capitalist human exploitation and environmental exploitation. It wouldn’t be simple. The so-called ‘standard of living’ would decrease immensely. But to realize the true spirit of a boycott and to hopefully improve the lot of all of society, it is necessary.

*Coca-Cola has a history of violently busting unions around the world, with union leaders showing up dead. The website killercoke.org has been active for over a decade documenting and fighting The Coca-Cola Company’s business practices.

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