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Build a Better Boycott

When a company is doing something unethical, you might wonder how to boycott them to penalize their actions. Quitting is a good start. A better boycott process can lead to real change:

1. Decide to stop giving a company your money.

2. Communicate your boycott reasons to decision makers.

3. Share what needs to change in order to regain your business.

4. Engage with community.

Bonus step: Keep reading!

1. Decide to stop giving a company your money.

You know what’s as powerful as a ballot? A dollar. When you learn that a company doing something unethical or immoral, you have a choice to stop giving them your money. This includes:

  • Stopping your shopping
  • Canceling subscriptions or services
  • Stopping automatic payments
  • Deleting or closing your accounts
  • Paying off your balance (ending interest income)
  • Selling off your shares in the company

These are all powerful actions that penalize a company the amount you’d normally spend. It can feel very empowering to deny a company your money.

When boycotting, be prepared for immediate inconvenience to yourself and loved ones. If you’ve relied on this company for products or services that make your life better and more comfortable, expect an adjustment period. Research more ethical options to replace it or, when appropriate, learn to live without.

2. Communicate your boycott reasons to decision makers

Completing the first step will be satisfying, but it’s usually not enough to effect change against unethical behavior. If you want the company’s attention, communicate.

Three ways to let them know about your boycott:

  • Option 1: Write a letter.
    Paper and envelope sounds old-school, but taking the time to write communicates that your concern is sincere. In your letter, share:
    – How long you’ve been a customer or shareholder
    – How much you usually spend on their products or services in a year
    – That you are boycotting their company immediately and indefinitely
    – What specific unethical behavior that has led you to boycott
    – Where you’re taking your business (include competitor’s name)
    (See point three below before signing.)
    Research the name and address of the CEO or company president and the Chair of the Board of Directors. Send a letter to each. [How to format a formal letter.]
  • Option 2: Write and send two emails using the suggestions above.
  • Option 3: Call out/shame in a public forum.
    Shaming can be an effective strategy for impacting big corporations (use discretion with individual people and very small businesses). If the company in question uses social media, use that platform to share what the company is doing wrong and encourage others to join your boycott. Tag the company in your message so they receive a notification of your post. Be kind to the low-paid staffer who reads (and possibly replies to) your post.

3. Share what needs to change in order to regain your business.

If you stop at the second step, boycotting is an aggressive “call out” act, meant to hurt and shame. If you want to increase the likelihood that your message will be heard and change the company’s practices, “call in” instead. In your letter, give specific and reasonable actions the company can take to regain your trust as a customer.

4. Engage with community.

  • Find your pack.
    Boycotting a corporation is most effective when done in concert with people who share your values and concerns. Use social media hashtags to find like-minded people. Research groups that are organizing a response and join them.
  • Become an advocate. When talking to non-boycotting people about the company’s practices, they’ll be more likely to join if you refrain from shaming, insulting, or judging their choices. Be curious. Accept them where they are. Focus on specific actions. Advocate, don’t alienate.
  • Keep your perspective. The ability to boycott means having enough time, energy, and resources to engage in a concerning issue. Respect that disabled people and people struggling with inadequate resources might have different priorities than you. A corporation will change slowly, but offering kindness to your neighbors creates a better world right now.

While a dollar has power, many dollars has more. A whole community collaborated to create the original boycott (and it worked!). By insisting on clearly stated changes and working in tandem with others, change is possible.

Bonus step: Practice gratitude

Have you ever noticed that the Americans of Conscience Checklist includes Acts of Gratitude in every edition? This is because praising people and companies doing ethical and helpful things is one way of ensuring it continues.

If a company you’re boycotting makes a change for the better (even a small one), thank them. In fact, just use the steps above for the purpose of expressing your approval and thanks. You benefit from this bonus step too. The health benefits of expressing gratitude decreases toxic emotions and leads to a long-term sense of wellbeing.

Read more in-depth details about boycotting

How are you boycotting?

In comment section below, share your experiences about what has worked for you in the past and what you might try next. You never know who you might inspire!

2 Comments

  1. I do not like supporting Amazon so I have been ordering books through Barnes & Noble and any other venues that I can find. If I want to order an item of clothing I first look locally and for instance, if I can buy it or order it through a retail store I do that rather than order from Amazon.

    • Bookshop.org is a wonderful alternative to Amazon or even Barnes and Noble. It supports independent bookstores. A friend owns a small shop in another state and since I can’t patronize her store in person, I use Bookshop to support hers!

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