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: In 2021 Hunt Saboteurs UK called for a boycott of AXA for providing legal fee insurance to The Hunting Office (the body responsible for the administration of hunting across the UK). In January 2022 AXA UK&I tweeted to say it did not provide insurance to the hunting industry. In February it tweeted to say that AXA UK&I does “not provide insurance to The Hunting Office.” HuntSabs responded by saying “Could it be that @axainsurance have ditched the hunts?” Unless an international branch of AXA is providing services to the UK Hunting Office (which seems unlikely), it looks like we can tentatively celebrate this as a success for HuntSabs – not to mention the foxes and other free animals!
APRIL: The UK's first-ever international government-organised LGBT+ conference was cancelled in April after more than 100 organisations committed to boycotting the event. LGBT+ charities and other groups pulled out of the conference "Safe To Be Me" to express opposition to the government's stance on conversion therapy. The government excluded transgender conversion therapy from a ban that was implemented under the Boris Johnson government, despite demands by LGBT+ organisations for this ban to include not only sexual orientations but also gender identity.
JUNE: Peta announced that Air France would ban the transport of monkeys as soon as its existing contract ended, following a campaign that spanned 10 years. Peta began the boycott call in 2012, and it continued up until 2022 when Air France was the only known major European airline still shipping monkeys to laboratories for experimentation, on journeys that could last over 30 hours. The campaign involved demonstrations around the globe, on-flight protests, discussions with the company’s leadership, shareholder activism, disruption of executives’ speeches, and bold advertisements like billboards at airports. Celebrities from Dr Jane Goodall to Peter Gabriel got behind the campaign.
JUNE: General Mills, parent company of Pillsbury, sold its stake in its joint venture in Israel following years of BDS pressure over its manufacturing of products in an illegal Israeli settlement called Atarot. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) called for a boycott of Pillsbury in 2020, as did activists, human rights groups, and even members of the Pillsbury family itself. The UN had named the company in its list of companies in violation of Palestinian rights in February 2020. General Mills did not cite these criticisms in its announcement that it had sold its stake, but the BDS National Committee says the move is a victory for BDS.
OCTOBER: Peta had called for a boycott of House of Fraser since 2020 over its sale of fur from animals such as rabbits and racoons. Peta asked people to write to the company and declare that they would boycott it, and protests took place co-organised by organisations such as Peta UK, Four Paws UK, and Humane Society International in London. In October 2023 the campaign group announced that the company had decided to ban the sale of fur across all of its brands including House of Fraser, Flannels and Sports Direct. One memorable Christmas protest includes activists singing “12 Days of Cruelty” outside a store front. Over 150,000 people urged the company to drop fur as part of the campaign.
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.
FEBRUARY: Kirin was criticised for years for its ties with the Myanmar military, having maintained partnerships with state entities following the killings of thousands of Muslim-minority Rohingya people. The International Campaign for the Rohingya (IRC) called for a boycott of Kirin Group.
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.
JUNE: After years of campaigning by Peta, Canada Goose announced it would stop selling fur by the end of 2021. Protests surrounding its sale of fur included exposes, celebrity actions, and legal battles.
Peta’s boycott of Canada Goose called for the company to stop selling both fur and feathers. Following the move away from fur, Peta suspended its campaigns against Canada Goose and stated it would be “re-engaging with the company to push for an end to its use of feathers”.
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.
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.”
DECEMBER: In June 2021 the International Campaign for the Rohingya called for a boycott of jewellery company Harry Winston and its owner, Swatch, stating “Because it dominates Burma's gemstone industry, the Myanmar military profits when high-end jewellery retailers – like Harry Winston (owned by Swatch) – buy Burmese gems for their collections.”
As part of the campaign Londoners made appointments at the company’s swanky stores, requested to see jewellery containing rubies, then explained that they would never shop there as long as it bought gems that fund the Myanmar military.
According to the campaign website, Harry Winston announced it would “will no longer source gemstones from its suppliers that have Burmese origins” on the same day that the campaign group in collaboration with No Business with Genocide handed the company a petition with over 25,000 signatures demanding the company cut ties with Burmese gemstones.