Boycotts have a long and important 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'.
Recent examples of successful boycott campaigns:
JANUARY: Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s Twitter account in January 2021 to prevent ‘Further incitement of violence’, following the storming of the US Capitol government buildings.
The decision followed online pressure led by Stop Hate for Profit, which took to social media in the week following the uprising demanding that the platform #BanTrumpForDemocracy. The campaign stated in January that it would call for an advertising boycott of any social media platforms that failed to ban Trump before the presidential inauguration on January 20th. Trump was also suspended from Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
FEBRUARY: Following a decade-long PETA campaign, Fortnum & Mason decided to stop selling foie gras. PETA says the campaign involved thousands of letters, adverts on the London Underground, and colourful protests (such as a giant ‘goose’ crashing into the shop front, with a crime scene then set up around it with chalk outlines of dead geese). MP Caroline Lucas, Bill Oddie, Twiggy and more high profile figures got behind the campaign.
Fortnum & Mason is a high-end department store with sites across London and Hong Kong, and has worldwide stockists. Foie gras is a 'luxury' food, made from the liver of geese or ducks who were specially fattened through the force-feeding of corn using a tube. Their livers swell up to ten times their normal size, pressing against the birds’ lungs and causing difficulty breathing.
MAY: Thousands of #StopFundingHate supporters took action in early 2021, urging supermarkets, banks and phone companies not to advertise with two new proposed ‘Fox news style’ TV channels in Britain that would showcase divisive media content. Rupert Murdoch had planned to develop ‘News UK’, but it was announced in April that this was not commercially viable and therefore would not go ahead. Unfortunately, GB News, the second proposed channel headed by Andrew Neil, launched in June 2021.
JULY: After nearly 10 years of campaigning by Palestinian human rights activists, Ben & Jerry’s announced it would stop selling ice cream in grocery stores in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. It announced, “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.
Campaign group Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTPJ) spearheaded the boycott call. The campaign also involved meetings with Ben & Jerry’s management, appeals to recipients of Ben & Jerry’s Foundation grant, and petitions. VJPT continues to call for a boycott of Ben & Jerry's, which it says will not end unless it stops sales across Israel.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement tweeted “Following years of #BDS campaigns @benandjerrys has announced it will end sales of its ice cream in Israel's illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. We warmly welcome their decision but call on Ben & Jerry's to end all operations in apartheid Israel.”
MARCH: In 2020 Mexico’s president cancelled the construction permits and water rights held by brewing company Constellation Brands, Mexico. Campaign group Mexicali Resiste called for a boycott of Constellation Brands in 2018, after after it gained access to the desert region’s drinking-water supply in what the campaign group called “shady, undocumented” deals.
The company’s beer factory was predicted to drain up to 20% of the city’s annual water supply. The government’s decision to cancel the water rights and construction permits was seen as a victory for grassroots campaigners. According to L.A.Taco, a Los Angeles news platform, the government decision caused Constellation Brands’ stock to plummet 11 percent.
APRIL: During the coronavirus pandemic, JD Wetherspoons pub chain said it would delay paying wages until it received government support - which would mean paying staff almost five weeks late. The announcement triggered a public outcry led by workers and the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAW) and caused #BoycottWetherspoons to trend on Twitter. 95 MPs added their criticism, writing to the company’s owner Tim Martin to express their concern. The company did a U-turn and promised to pay wages weekly.
JUNE: According to Time magazine, the model Munroe Bergdorf called for a boycott of L’Oreal based on its approach to issues of racial justice. Bergdorf claims that her contract with L’Oreal was terminated in 2017 after she discussed “racial violence of white people” on social media following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
L’Oreal is quoted as having said that Bergdorf’s comments were “at odds” with its support for “diversity and tolerance towards all people irrespective of their race, background, gender and religion.”
During the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in summer 2020, L’Oreal made statements in support of anti-racist protests and Bergdorf highlighted the hypocrisy of this. The brand expressed regret for its actions and she was invited to become a consultant on L’Oreal’s UK diversity and inclusion board.
MAY: Brunei announced that it would not impose the death penalty for those convicted of having anal sex, following boycott calls. The decision followed international condemnation of the country’s decision to roll out strict laws making anal sex, adultery and rape punishable by stoning to death.
Celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney had called for a boycott of the Dorchester Collection, a chain of hotels owned by the Sultan of the country, which includes The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London.1 Several large companies including JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank followed suit, telling their staff to avoid Brunei-owned hotels in the wake of the new laws.
JANUARY: The Body Shop successfully ended, after the company's owner declared itself cruelty-free. Natura, which bought the high-street chain in 2017, announced a clear animal testing policy after hundreds of consumers wrote to the company. Naturewatch lifted the boycott call, after 11 years of campaigning, and has invited both Natura and The Body Shop to join its list for cruelty-free cosmetics brands.
FEBRUARY: Multiple companies cut ties with the NRA, following boycott calls.
- Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Hertz, Budget, Avis, Best Western and Wyndham Hotels all stated that they would no longer offer discounts or other special offers for NRA members.
- The insurer Chubb dropped cover for NRA Carry Guard insurance.
- Enterprise Rent–A–Car announced that is was severing ties.
- First National Bank of Omaha stated that it would end a Visa credit card it offered with NRA branding.
The companies all faced boycotts for their links to the NRA after the association called for teachers to be armed and spoke out against student gun control activists, in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting.
JULY: Ivanka Trump closed her fashion brand, after boycotts from consumers following her father's election. The brand was a target of the Boycott Trump campaign due to Ivanka's links with the President and her own role as a senior adviser. According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited research from Rakuten Intelligence, online sales of the brand at Amazon, Macy's and Bloomingdales fell almost 45% in the year to June. Several retailers also dropped the brand.
The Irish Senate approved a bill that would ban the import of goods from the Palestinian occupied territories. If the bill passes Ireland’s lower house it will set a precedent within the EU. The Act will prohibit “trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law”, which would make Ireland the first EU country to introduce a national boycott of Israeli-settlement goods. The bill does not name Israel but instead refers to “occupying powers” and “illegal settlements” – both terms that the Israeli settlement fulfil under UN law.
SEPTEMBER: Burberry announces that it will join Armani, Versace, Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, and others in banning fur after a long-running boycott campaign from animal rights group PETA.
DECEMBER: HSBC announced that it had fully divested from the Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems, known for selling weapons to the Israeli military used in attacks on Palestinian civilians.
Elbit Systems has been the target of a long-running divestment campaign for supplying surveillance systems and other technology to Israel’s Separation Wall and settlements in the West Bank as well as for the US-Mexico boarder. The company has also manufactured the white phosphorous and artillery systems that can be used for cluster munitions. More than 24,000 War on Want supporters emailed HSBC asking the company to end its investments in Elbit Systems and other arms companies selling to the Israeli military.
Cartier pledged to stop buying gems from Myanmar and gemstone exports from the country fell 65% during the course of 2017. Human rights activists called for jewellers to boycott gemstones mined in Myanmar, which are funding the country’s military.
Myanmar’s military dominates the country’s gemstone industry, with military-affiliated companies controlling distribution of licensing and permits and running gem auctions that raise hundreds of millions of dollars. The long-running campaign, led by SumofUS and The International Campaign for the Rohingya, responds to the military’s attacks on communities of Rohingya Muslims in the country.
JULY: Picturehouse agreed to negotiate with its workers' trade union BECTU, following strikes and a consumer boycott of the cinema chain. The company had previously refused to meet with the union, which workers said it would not recognise.
SEPTEMBER: Local councils' right to boycott was upheld by the UK's High Court. In November 2015, the government announced new legislation that would black local councils from divesting their pension funds, for example for climate change, or human rights reasons. The legislation was challenged by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, Campaign against Arms Trade, and Quakers as well as individuals and trade unions.
NOVEMBER: Boots dropped the price of its own-brand emergency contraceptive pill, after the British Pregnancy Advisory Service threatened to call a boycott of the company. Boots had previously said that it would not drop the price, in line with other retailers, because it did not 'want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use'.
JANUARY: The United Methodist Church, a Protestant denomination that numbers over seven million members, said it will not invest in the five banks for financing "settlement activity" over the 1949 Armistice lines.
The five banks to be boycotted by the church's pension board are:
- Bank Hapoalim,
- Bank Leumi,
- First International Bank of Israel,
- Israel Discount Bank and
- Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot.
Colette Nies, a spokeswoman for the pension board, said that the guideline, approved by the board in 2014 and carried out last year, applied to 14 different regions around the world, including the Middle East.
MARCH: Seaworld have announced that they will end all ocra breeding programmes this year, making this generation of captive orcas the last to be kept in SeaWorld's tanks. They will also phase out of orca whale shows in all the parks.
This is a huge victory for animal rights campaigners and follows pressure from numerous campaign groups including PETA and the Captive Animals' Protection Society from the UK.
MAY: Global security services giant G4S provides services to Israeli prisons in which human rights campaigners have documented systematic torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including child prisoners. In 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sold its stake in G4S.
JUNE: After its AGM in June 2015 was severely disrupted by protesters, G4S announced that it will end its Israeli prison contracts in the next three years.
The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination in the USA with around a million members, unanimously approved an Israel divestment resolution in June. Their General Synod voted 508-124 in favour.
Reverend James Moos, executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, told Business Insider that the vote was representative of the church’s commitment to peace in the Middle East.
“The United Church of Christ condemns all forms of violence and anti-Semitism, and affirms Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders,” Moos said in a statement. “We similarly assert the right of Palestinians to have a sovereign, independent and viable state within secure and recognized borders.”
AUGUST: French multinational Veolia was involved in the Jerusalem light railway, which connects Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements. It also operates a landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley which takes waste from Israel (in violation of international law) and formerly ran settler-only bus routes in the West Bank.