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Starting a Boycott

Quick Guide from Ethical Consumer to starting your own consumer boycott.

Are you fed up of hearing about a company behaving badly? Are you angry with a company for the way it conducts its business? Why not boycott it and encourage others to do the same?

Here's a quick guide to setting up your own consumer boycott.

What is a boycott?

Boycotts are a tool for holding company's accountable for actions against workers, consumers, communities, minorities, animals or the environment. It is marketplace democracy in action - consumers voting with their money for social and economic change.

Boycotts directly threaten sales so company boss’ take them more seriously than letter writing campaigns or lobbying.

Any concerned group or individual can call a boycott. Groups have been more successful in calling and executing boycotts than individuals because there is strength in numbers.

Before you start...

Set some objectives and goals.

“A successful campaign, no matter how we define it, has to begin with clear, realistic, measurable goals,” Barbara Beck of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Have clear demands. e.g. Stop selling tobacco to kids! This makes it easier to get people involved and gives the company an action it can take. Make sure demands are realistic.

Set yourself a time frame based on resources and the size of the task. But remember boycotts can take years before achieving the desired result. Perhaps start small, aim for a boycott in a small area or amongst a small group of people.

Decide whether you want to pressure the company by impacting product sales (economic and consumer-oriented) or by attacking the company's image (reputational and media-oriented)?

Arm yourself with knowledge

Get all the facts about the company and the offensive policy or action.

Search the internet for information about the company

Ask other activists and campaign groups if they know anything interesting and relevant, maybe they’ll back your call.

Ask ex-employees to “spill the beans”

Use the company's annual reports (often posted on the Internet) to obtain important company information such their environmental report or workers rights policy, the president and/or CEO's name(s), and addresses and phone numbers.

And then…

Write to the company to voice your grievance. And ask to meet with them.

Indicate that if the policy or action is not changed, you intend to initiate a consumer boycott. Some organizers attempt to negotiate with the company first and use a boycott strategy only if negotiations fail to bring about the desired changes.

Occasionally the threat of a boycott can make the company yield to your demands.

Spread the word

Find and utilize boycott media, local press, and alternative press.

Network with other activists, organizers, community groups, and media to spread the message of the boycott and gain publicity.

Use press releases and informational materials as part of a comprehensive media strategy.

Choose a #tag and set up a Facebook page to get the word out on social media.

Maybe set up an online petition to help provide a focus of the campaign and reach more people.

15 ways to get your message across

  • Develop a clear, simple, concise message.
  • Distribute leaflets about your boycott in front of stores where the product is sold.
  • Get consumers to sign petitions or cards pledging to support the boycott. Send these to the company.
  • Produce educational materials, films, or demonstration kits to educate consumers about the issue and how they can help.
  • Advertise in newspapers, on radio, and on television.
  • You could even try to get a celebrity endorsement.
  • Produce buttons, bumper stickers, and T-shirts.
  • Create a Web Site with information on the boycott
  • Send e-mail alerts and updates.
  • Write press releases to notify the media of rallies, press conferences, demonstrations, or any other events supporting the boycott.
  • Hold demonstrations in front of the company's headquarters.
  • Speak at community functions.
  • Letters to local and national newspapers and magazines
  • Write articles for other organizations’ newsletters.

Its all about who you know

Try and get large institutions charities or existing campaign groups to back you. It will add weight to your campaign, they may know how to get hold of more resources and they could also promote your cause.

A more difficult but worthwhile strategy may be to appeal to company shareholders. You could even buy shares and demonstrate from inside the company AGM.

Convince other companies to “join” your boycott, there is nothing like peer pressure.

Are You Ready for Action

There are lots of places where you can find more information on boycotts.
We have an archive of current boycotts and past successes, have a look and see what inspires you.

This document was put together using a guide by Co-op America (now called Green America).