Boycotts have a long and noble history of contributing to progressive social change, as well as succeeding in their more immediate goals.
One of the earliest examples was the boycott in England of sugar produced by slaves. In 1791, after Parliament refused to abolish slavery, thousands of pamphlets were printed encouraging the boycott. Sales of sugar dropped by between a third and a half. By contrast sales of Indian sugar, untainted by slavery, rose tenfold in two years. In an early example of fair trade, shops began selling sugar guaranteed to be have been produced by 'free men'.
In our 20th anniversary edition (issue 120), Ethical Consumer looked back to find successful boycotts from the past twenty years. Download the free pdf here.
Here are some more examples:
The John Lewis Partnership has taken a stand against mulesing. In a letter to campaign group PETA they said, “John Lewis... will require all suppliers of merino wool products to satisfy us, through declarations, that the wool used in their products comes from non-mulesed sources”.
Nestlé gave in to pressure from Greenpeace and promised a zero deforestation policy in its palm oil supply chain. After just 8 weeks of intense campaigning and meetings with the company Nestle came come up with what Greenpeace described as a “comprehensive policy” that will be monitored by the Forest Trust.
Nearly 1.5m saw Greenpeace’s spoof Kit Kat advert, over 200,000 emails were sent and activists demonstrated at Nestlé HQs worldwide. Greenpeace said “We didn’t expect Nestlé to come up with this policy so quickly.
Fruit of the Loom crumbled in the face of pressure from the largest ever student boycott. In an incredible about-face the company re-opened a Honduran factory it had closed after workers had unionised. Furthermore, it also gave all 1,200 employees their jobs back, awarded them $2.5 million in compensation and restored all union rights.
The campaign started in 2009 when United Students Against Sweatshops started a campaign that led to 96 US colleges severing their contracts with the company. Ten British universities followed suit. The campaign was estimated to have cost the company $50million.
Reyna Dominguez, who worked at the factory, told New Internationalist that “without this pressure the company would never have come to the negotiating table. There has never been an agreement like this in Honduras or the world.”
Kimberly-Clark announced a new paper procurement policy that would reduce its impact on ancient forest in North America that were being destroyed for tissue brands such as Kleenex and Andrex. You can read more about the successfull Greenpeace campaign here.
Donna Karan and the DKNY brand are no longer on our boycott list because of a welcome campaign success from the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and the Chinese Staff and Workers Association. US workers in supplier factories came to a settlement with the company over their claims of discrimination and failure to pay minimum wages or overtime.
May - The De Beers boycott has been called off by Survival International after the company sold its diamond deposit at Gope on the lands of the Kalahari Bushmen. The Bushmen have been forced from their ancestral homelands.The campaign had made Gope ‘a problematic asset for De Beers’.
Whether there is a just outcome for the Bushmen remains to be seen. De Beers sold the Gope deposit to Gem Diamonds for $34 million and will not benefit from the estimated $2.2 billion-worth of diamonds there.
New owners Gem Diamonds says it is currently formulating its policy regarding allowing the Bushmen back onto their land and obtaining free and informed consent before mining goes ahead. Survival is monitoring progress.
June - The Burma Campaign UK announced that sustained pressure had led to Austrian Airlines, Eastravel and FromersGuides joining the growing exodus of companies ending their promotion of tourism to Burma. Austrian Airlines subsidiary Lauda Air was the only airline in Europe with direct flights to Burma, and the regime had welcomed the flights, hoping they would boost tourism and investment.
Gill Clothing formally pledged to stop sourcing from Burma.
October - The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT) stated that Inditex Group, which owned fashion chain Zara, had decided to withdraw fur from all the group's 2,064 stores in 52 countries. The fur was phased out over a period of several weeks and Inditex ceased sale of fur in its shops from 31 December 2004.
Inditex stated in a letter to its customers that a formal policy had been established and as of 1st January 2005 no fur was to be used in Inditex Group clothes or other products. The policy was announced 3 days before a planned international day of action against Zara.
August - Snow+Rock announced it would no longer be selling real fur garments following a campaign by Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT). The managing director, Dion Taylor, said: “We feel there are enough man made equivalents to satisfy the needs of our customers.” More info on CAFT's other campaigns on 0845 330 7955.
Aon Corporation informed the Burma Campaign UK it intended to terminate all business in Burma. The company had appeared on the Burma Campaign's ‘Dirty List’ of companies directly or indirectly funding the regime in Burma. The campaign group welcomed the decision: “Aon have acted responsibly by ending their involvement in Burma,” said Director John Jackson.
July - The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) claimed that the Automobile Association (AA) had told them “no wild captive animals will feature in future AA advertising.” This was in response to a customer furore, following an AA ad featuring Anne, an elderly Asian elephant on loan from Bobby Roberts Circus.
October - Marine campaign group Oceana's boycott of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd led to the company installing Advanced Wastewater Purification technology (AWP) on all its ships. Oceana campaigns to stop the release of toxic chemicals and waste from cruise ships, and feels that the AWP systems will ensure that each vessel meets strict quality standards. Oceana reported that Royal Caribbean will have independent, third-party auditors monitoring the new equipment to ensure performance targets are met.
March - PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) confirmed its decision to pull out of Burma. The company had featured on Burma Campaign UK's boycott list of companies directly or indirectly funding the regime in Burma.
September - In response to a three-year Animal Aid campaign, Focus pledged to end the sale of all animals, including fish, in its stores throughout the UK. The massive DIY chain promised that animal sales would stop over the next two years.
March - The Stop Staples Campaign declared victory following the office-supply giant’s announcement that it would meet the campaign’s goal of moving the company towards environmentally-preferable paper sales.
Staples pledged to achieve an average of 30% post consumer recycled content across all paper products it sold. It also pledged to phase out purchases of paper products from endangered forests, create an environmental affairs division and to report annually on its environmental results. More information.
April - The Focus store group announced to Animal Aid that it was to cease the sale of all birds and small mammals. Animal Aid began its Focus campaign in February 2000, originally concentrating on the company’s sale of reptiles. Following hundreds of demonstrations at the company’s stores around the country, Focus' reptile sales ended in October 2000.
February - Triumph International was the subject of a boycott call over its manufacturing operations in Burma. The company announced that it would be closing down its Burma-based manufacturing site, located on a military-owned industrial estate north of Rangoon. The company had been listed on the Burma Campaign UK 'Dirty List'.
April - The four year boycott run by the National Anti-Hunt Campaign (NAHC) over John Lewis' staff pheasant shoots finally ended in victory, with the closure of the company's Shooting Club. The campaign gained a higher profile in 2000 when Animal Aid added its voice and membership capacity to the boycott.
The NAHC/Animal Aid victory comes despite John Lewis trying 'every trick in the book' according to NAHC's Niel Hansen, including libel writs and attempting to have one campaigner jailed for distributing leaflets on company property.
December - The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has called off its long-standing boycott of Mitsubishi. The two main companies targeted by the boycott, Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Electric, signed an agreement with RAN committing themselves to making important changes to their wood and paper purchasing policies, and the rest of the Mitsubishi group is also said to be looking at ways of improving its environmental management.
April - Following a long campaign of protest, Mitsubishi surprised campaigners by announcing that it was pulling out of an industrial salt project in Mexico for environmental reasons. The project to extract salt from sea water in evaporation ponds was to be located in a World Heritage Site - the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. Potentially covering 116 square miles, it threatened a breeding ground for whales and other endangered species.
A 'Mitsubishi: Don't Buy It' campaign was launched, more than 40 Californian cities passed resolutions condemning the company, and over 700,000 letters of objection were sent. Homero Aridjis, one of the campaign's leaders was reported as saying: "It has been a tough fight for five years with one of the richest corporations in the world and the Mexican government."