How boycotts work: one view

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The problem of free software graphics hardware drivers was being discussed and it was suggested that we should only buy from friendly companies. Then someone made the common sceptical claim that there's no point boycotting a product or company or country unless everyone else does. I think that may be assuming the aim is to bankrupt them rather than to change a bad decision.

Since when has a boycott needed to be total in order to change a supplier's mind? You only need enough people to support it, not everyone. The value of "enough" changes for each thing: there are examples of relatively limited boycotts succeeding (Shell Brent Spar) and relatively long/large ones not yet succeeding (Nestlé Baby Milk Action).

Boycotts are consumers doing judo on corporations:

  1. Most corporations aim to maximise their profit and their shareholders usually push them to do so.
  2. Boycotts are an overt way of linking lost sales to a particular issue.
  3. If it looks like it's costing more profit to suffer the boycott than to address the cause, the corporation is not maximising their profit.
  4. So, the executives should answer the boycott or the shareholders should replace them with some who will.

So, it is helpful to boycott harmful companies and it's more helpful to do so noisily.

If you choose not to, that's your choice, but do it only if you don't care enough about the issue: don't kid yourself that only total boycotts work. If someone kidding themselves their inaction makes no difference changes their mind and boycotts noisily, it might make enough support.

See Boycott City and The new complaining and your brand's reputation by Joel Turner on September 24, 2009 for some other views and Anarchia for a dissenting view.

Original version of this essay.

Tech boycotts

  1. See google problems for why I ask people to boycott google.
  2. Boycott Novell republished my explanation of how boycotts work.
  3. I think Boicottare Novell is an Italian-language translation of my judo explanation. Rock.
  4. The Greenpeace campaign against toxic e-waste is in the news today, following a survey that shows buyers are willing to pay a small extra if it means they get toxic-free computer systems. Sadly, the choice seems limited, although many mobile phone makers, hp and Dell have committed to phase-out. Siemens is one mobile phone maker who hasn't committed. LG and motorola have broken commitments. Acer, Apple, IBM and Toshiba are in the hall of shame. Something to consider when buying more electronics.
  5. The Drake Feckwits file - fasthosts, 123-reg and Namesco.

Tell me about your tech boycotts... List non-tech ones at Boycott City.

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