When is a boycott justified?

There’s a huge thread in the Pit that touches on the ethics of boycotts. I think that is a good topic for its own thread, so here it is.

A creative director of a Californian theater donated money to help defeat same-sex marriage. His name and employer were released, and many calls to boycott the theater resulted. The director was let go (I think he officially “resigned,” but I think it’s fair to assume that it was a result of the pressure the theater felt).

I think a boycott of the theater under these particular circumstances is justifiable. He was creative director, which means that he was in a position to claim personal glory if the theater did well, and it means personal responsibility if the theater did badly. Just as the theater would benefit by a famous creative director, the theater gets to suffer by an infamous one.

This wouldn’t be the case for, say, the ticket seller in the lobby. The theater’s success, or lack, doesn’t reflect on the ticket seller at all, so she isn’t in a position to make a personal claim about her genius at ticket sales. Continuing to support the theater wouldn’t be mistaken as support for the ticket seller’s views, but could be mistaken as support for the creative director’s views.

Boycotting a business for the business’s actions is always justified, even though businesses are made up of individuals, often acting alone. Until the business disavows actions taken in their name, the boycott is valid. So, if the theater itself had donated money to Prop 8, all boycotts would be justified unless and until it became clear that the decision was being reversed, probably including the person behind it being given the boot.

After typing that all out, I wonder if this merits a GD. Oh well. Here goes nothing.

It seems to me that a boycott is justified whenever the people engaged in it think it’s justified. I might decide that it’s not a rational decision for me to boycott a particular business, but I can only make that judgement for myself. If someone else decides to boycot a business because she doesn’t like that one of the part-time clerks has a unibrow, that’s entirely that person’s decision.

The boycott is not stemming from how people voted, but on their donations to the pro-8 effort. I think boycotting on a voting position would be unjustified.

In the theater case, the artists have the right of free association, and so have the perfect right not to wish to work with someone who had donated money to reduce what they see as their rights or the rights of others. None of them are holding the theater responsible, which is good. I can’t imagine what he was thinking, or if he was so blind to the implications of his position that he couldn’t figure out that those he worked with would be upset.

For a business owner, it is clear that my patronage might directly support the funding of a position I hold abhorrent, and that reduces the rights of others. That seems perfectly justifiable to me.

Boycotting someone for his private opinions or for his religion is different, since that doesn’t reduce anyone’s rights. You can certainly not to choose to patronize on that basis, but it seems to be an iffier position. So, the reason that the boycott is justified is because those being boycotted worked to reduce the rights of others while not increasing their rights one bit.

So if the guy donated a quarter he is worthy of a boycott?

What if the guy didn’t donate a dime, but wrote an opp-ed in the newspaper?
What if he only had a bumper sticker? A t-shirt?

I just wonder where the dividing line is. I now it is a personal decision on who or what to boycott, and personally i would rather act in a way that is punitive to those who think differently. I would rather engage and educate, versus villify and ostracize.

I usually think a boycott is justified when my patronage of a business would further allow them to undermine something I believe in.

For exampl,e say some people were trying to ban Discworld novels and business A or business owner A is donating money to that cause. Now I think its reasonable to assume that by giving money to business A or owner A I am, in fact, giving money to those who oppose me. Now if it was just some employee that would be different as my patronage would not necessarily allow my cause to be further undermined.

I actually am very conflicted about boycotts in general. On the one hand, I don’t really see how you could outlaw them. On the other hand, they are very dangerous… a lot of American law is set up to make sure that a simple majority or plurality can’t interfere with the rights of a minority. Boycotts are a way to get around that. Sure they take a cohesive effort of a large group, but what if, say, the Mormon church decided that it wanted to start influencing the business practices of national chains which have outlets in Utah?

How, exactly, would one “outlaw” boycotts? Force people to buy things?

I believe he said he doesn’t know.

I guess I can see how you could care enough to boycott something. I personally only boycott businesses who sell expensive things and things I don’t want. I suppose if Hitler ran a business I would boycott it, but so far I haven’t found any issue I care about enough to boycott over. I don’t think they’re that effective for one thing.

Now hunger strikes. There’s a worthless enterprise. “Look, bad guys! I’m starving myself! Doesn’t that overwhelm you with compassion?”

It is meant to incite compassion in bystanders and peers, who will then pressure the bad guys.

And yet, there are lots of businesses out there that are doing things that I have a problem with. How do we decide which ones to boycott?

You wouldn’t be able to make the act of boycotting illegal, but you might forbid giving it publicity. Not that this would be constitutional, but it would be at least practical.

Boycott or no, would you patronize someone who very publicly attempted to restrict your right to practice your religion or lack of religion? Why would I give my money to a company with a sign saying that Judaism should be outlawed or that all LDS churches should be closed? I suppose someone could think that a 25 cent donation for bigotry was somehow better than a $1,000 one.

Why do we have to agree? I don’t really understand your question.

True. Besides, boycotts are a part of our rights to free speech and expression. Everybody has the right to boycott anybody or anything for whatever cause they think is important. Likewise, everybody has the right to disagree with reason and goal of the boycott or question whether it would be an effective tactical tool in advancing a certain cause.

Well, first of all, by “boycott” do you mean only that you have decided that you, as an individual, refuse to patronize a business? Or are you referring to an organized effort by a group (a la the Montgomery Bus Boycott)? Because the latter is what I think of when I think of a “boycott,” and it requires agreement and organization by the group.

I think part of what I was trying to say is that it strikes me as unfair and arbitrary to try to “punish” a business by boycotting it just because it, or one of its prominent leaders, does something I don’t like (like giving financial contributions to a cause I think is wrong), when probably many other businesses are doing things that are at least as heinous, if not much worse, but I just haven’t become aware of them.

Anyway, the idea that I came up with (after a few minutes thought, so I wouldn’t be surprised if holes can be poked in it) is that a boycott (that is, an organized effort to get a business to change by refusing to patronize it until it does) is warranted when a business misuses its power—power that it has by virtue of the fact that many people need or want its goods or services. By demonstrating to the business that you can get along without it, you’re showing it that it doesn’t have as much power as it thought it had, or reducing the power that it does have over you.

I think the issue here is that anyone who does business with the public relies on his/her public image in order to entice customers. No one deserves customers just because he or she has hung out a shingle. As a customer, I make choices about what businesses I’ll patronize all the time. Maybe they’re in a good location, maybe I like the cute waitress, maybe the staff is friendly, maybe they donate to good causes.

I’m in a theatrical production right now, and a number of local businesses give discounts to members of the theater company during the run of the show. This may be altruistic of them, but it is also promotional, and I frequent some of those business at times when I normally wouldn’t because they’ve been generous to my ‘cause.’

If I think a business owner is an asshole, I very well might avoid his establishment, all other things being equal.

This isn’t punitive at all, it’s just a choice similar to hundreds of choices I make every year regarding where I’ll spend my money.

The problem I have with boycotts is that it’s very easy to get one started based on misinformation (e.g., the old boycott of Proctor & Gamble because of the mistaken impression that it had a Satanic logo).

A company can be badly hurt by individuals, organizations, or even competitors making up believable “facts” and starting a boycott. If the person who starts it is careful, it’s almost impossible for the company to do anything about it.

That said, I can’t see any way to prevent them from happening.

And personally, I’d never boycott a company for the actions of a lower-level employee, but I’ll absolutely stop doing business somewhere if I don’t like the owners’ actions or if an employee does something I don’t like on company time or using company money and the owners don’t deal with it in a fashion I approve of.

What he said.

I agree with this, and extend it to say that I don’t think it is right to boycott a business depending on what the owner is (race, religion, etc.) It may be legal, but it is wrong imo. I tend to not patronize businesses who put little fishes in their yellow pages ads, because I feel unwelcome - but I’d never support a boycott of that business, because doing so doesn’t hurt anybody or even try to hurt anybody.

Is a boycott, for the purposes of this thread, a term reserved for

  1. organized or an attempt to organize non-purchasing behavior for reasons wholly unrelated to the item or service purchased; or,

  2. non-purchasing behavior for reasons wholly unrelated to the item or service purchased?

I exercise (2) all the time but rarely even consider (1).