Last updated: 2011
Secrets of Success
There are many ways to judge the success of a boycott - from raising awareness of an issue, to winning a decisive victory. Those that are most successful clearly take a lot of time and dedication. But what are the secrets of success? Heather Webb talks to some campaigners...
A range of actions
In recent years one of the most high profile boycotts has been that of Burma. The travel boycott recently ended but over the years it was very successful in raising awareness.
Mark Farmaner, the Director of Burma Campaign UK explains:
“When we want to pressure a company we identify all possible pressure points, of which a boycott may be one”. But, he continues, “a boycott alone is not interesting for supporters, they boycott, and then what? It doesn’t keep them engaged”.
He suggests that other actions should also be lined up to support a boycott campaign. For example,
getting people to email their grievances to a company.
This was key in animal rights campaign group PETA’s successful 2009 foie gras boycott of Selfridges. More than 5,000 people sent e-mails to Selfridges executives via the PETA website, and thousands made telephone calls and posted letters. PETA also used several different campaign methods alongside each other including web advocacy, public advertisements and colourful demonstrations.
Media attention is also important. Mark Farmaner says:
‘We ran several successful boycott campaigns against retailers in 2002-2004. They became so high profile and effective that retailers sometimes ended their involvement in Burma within hours of the boycott being launched. Often it was the media attention, the threat of a boycott, and supporters emailing companies to pledge to boycott them, that was most effective, rather than any sustained boycott campaign that actually went ahead”.
In a recent victory for PETA over Unilever it was the threat of a boycott that forced the company to revise its animal testing policy. Using the media was also key to Survival International’s boycott of De Beers in Botswana. Survival International made the Gope diamond mine on the lands of the Kalahari Bushmen a “problematic asset” for De Beers through a massive media campaign, targeting celebrities who advertised De Beers and also Botswana’s diamond and tourism trade. It was eventually called off after the company sold the diamond deposit.
Chloe Corbin from Survival International noted: “It helps to have strong, articulate advocates on the ground and to get the media on board”.
In conclusion, a carefully thought out campaign strategy, which includes a boycott, can lead to big changes. But remember, the key to it all is planning and making a splash.
As Mark Farmaner from the Burma campaign says:
“An effective well planned launch can win a campaign very quickly”.
Sandra Smiley from PETA UK also added that boycotts should be a last resort: “Only once all attempts to work with a company have failed”.
The threat of boycott – a case study
Sandra Smiley from People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals explains how just the threat of a boycott bought about real change. PETA UK and PETA US approached London-based Unilever, maker of Lipton and PG tips teas, after discovering that the company had been commissioning non-essential tests for their tea extracts on animals.
PETA US wrote to the president of Unilever twice in 2007, asking him to follow the lead of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Welch’s, Ocean Spray, and many other food and drink manufacturers by pledging not to fund or conduct animal tests on food products or ingredients directly.
They noted to Unilever that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had informed them that “the Agency is not aware of any circumstances that would result in the FDA requiring a food or beverage company to conduct laboratory experiments on animals.” PETA UK also wrote to Unilever’s headquarters in London.
One of the invasive experiments that Unilever conducted involved infecting piglets with E coli toxin in order to induce intestinal fluid loss. In another experiment, mice were fed a high cholesterol diet and had cuffs placed around their carotid arteries to inflict injury. Such tests are not required by any US or EU law (or by any other country’s law that we are aware of) and are inexcusable.
During a meeting with PETA worldwide affiliates in January, Unilever was advised of an imminent global “PG tips/Lipton CruelTEA” campaign, and PETA’s representatives gave the company’s executives a glimpse of the planned campaign website, which contained hard facts about painful experiments on pigs, rabbits and rats as well as parodies of the tea brands’ labels. The spectre of a looming international boycott call was underlined by appeals to the company by more than 40,000 members of PETA and its international affiliates.
In early 2011, only days before PETA was set to launch an international campaign against Unilever, the company posted a new policy on its website stating, “Unilever is committing to no animal testing for our tea and tea-based beverages, with immediate effect”