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Starting a Boycott

A 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 companies 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 bosses often 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.

Read more about what boycotts are and if they are always appropriate in our separate article.

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 as 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 organisers 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.

Use social media

Boycotts can spread like wildfire online. 

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

Here are five top tips for writing a compelling social media post:

  1. Be the Change – communicate in a non-hateful way and focus on the change you want to see.
  2. Find angles that are difficult to disagree with.
  3. Tap into common values that transcend the political spectrum e.g. “every life is precious.”
  4. Avoid arguments that help reinforce unhelpful narratives. 
  5. Try and keep your post as simple as possible.


For Facebook, it’s also great to include an image in the post, as this will ensure it’s seen by more people. Tag relevant people or organisations into the photo that you think will be interested: they may respond or share the campaign. 

Why not ask a question of your friends and followers? This will increase engagement. 

If people do respond to the post, be sure to reply to positive comments to keep the conversation going. 


For Twitter, you have limited characters, so it is important to keep the message short and simple and be clear about what action you want taken. 

You can reply to your initial tweet and tag in relevant organisations or people who might be interested. If they retweet you or reply, it will help your post get seen by more people.

Make sure you use a hashtag and use it in each tweet on the topic. Others can click on the hashtag and see who is taking part in the boycott and how popular it is, or even find out more information. 

Consider setting up an online petition to help provide a focus of the campaign, track your impact and reach more people. A petition can also help to show how much support your campaign has and get it noticed better.


For Instagram, it’s important to include images and videos as these will capture attention and get more views. 

Use as many hashtags as possible in the comments on the caption: 10 to 17 is the ideal amount. Use hashtags that clearly relate to your post and reflect the tone of your campaign. 

Share your post in your story, as well as on your feed, so more people will view it. 

It’s all about who you know

Try and get large institutions, charities or existing campaign groups to back you. They may have many followers on social media, so can be a great way to get the word out.

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.

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

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

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

15 ways to get your message across

  1. Develop a clear, simple, concise message with a clear action.
  2. Create Facebook and Twitter accounts and # to share your message. 
  3. Link your boycott to trending discussions and events on Twitter.
  4. Tag relevant organisations or people to help spread the word.
  5. Distribute leaflets about your boycott in front of stores where the product is sold.
  6. Get consumers to sign petitions or cards pledging to support the boycott. Send these to the company.
  7. Produce educational materials, films, or demonstration kits to educate consumers about the issue and how they can help.
  8. Advertise in newspapers, on radio, and on television (if you have the budget).
  9. You could even try to get a celebrity endorsement.
  10. Produce buttons, bumper stickers, and T-shirts.
  11. Create a website with information on the boycott.
  12. Send e-mail alerts and updates.
  13. Write press releases to notify the media of rallies, press conferences, demonstrations, or any other events supporting the boycott.
  14. Hold demonstrations in front of the company's headquarters.
  15. Write letters to local and national newspapers and magazines and articles for other organisations’ newsletters.

Video about consumer boycotts

Are you ready for action?

There are lots of places where you can find more information on boycotts.

We have a list 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). Labour Behind the Label also has a guide on ‘How to target brands online’ available online.

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