Boycotting as Protest

TW: infant death, racism 




withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organisation, or person) as a punishment or protest: 


Boycott is not a new idea. It continues to grow in strength as a form of protest with people committing to no longer using the services of or supporting businesses or organisations. Some of the most famous boycott campaigns include the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1), the Nestle baby milk boycott (2), Eurovision 2024 (3), and people choosing not to bank with Barclays during the apartheid because of their links with South Africa at the time (4). People continue to boycott Barclays today, due to their links with funding arms companies, the Israeli army and fossil fuels. Through the SCM and JustMoney campaign, I switched banks as a way to boycott Barclays earlier this year. 

But what are the roots of boycotting? It is a form of protest we can all take, and is one that can be an individual choice, or a community movement. The word boycott originated in Ireland in 1880. Farmers were struggling to survive after years of poor harvest and so they collectively refused to pay the extortionate rents set by their landlords. A land manager named Charles Boycott was dispatched by landlords to force tenants out, and the community collectively ignored him. From the tenants to local businesses, and even the postman, all refused to interact with Mr. Boycott. His story reached the English press, and a group of volunteer farmers came to Boycott’s aid. However, given a fear of violence, the Royal Irish Constabulary were involved and Boycott was left with over £9,000 of costs to bring in a £500 harvest. The action of the collective made a huge impact, and the concept of Boycotting was born. 

Today, there are loads of boycotts popping up as a response to the current conflict in Israel and Palestine. You might have seen the large-scale boycott of Eurovision this year, called for by the Pro-Palestine movement BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). Hundreds of LGBTQIA+ activists called on Olly Alexander to step down and boycott the competition by not performing. Hundreds of LGBTQIA+ activists called on British entrant Olly Alexander to step down and boycott the competition by not performing. It may seem dramatic to bring something as frivolous as Eurovision into a debate around Gaza and the atrocities happening there, but arts and culture are the foundations of our society and using them to make political statements is a powerful tool. We live in a world where everybody is connected, and so it is our responsibility to stand up for and with those who are oppressed; even if it is through something as trivial as no longer watching a singing competition. 

A very famous example of boycott happened in the American Civil Rights movement: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The simplified version is that it started when Rosa Parkes refused to give up her seat to a white man and lasted 381 days, with 40,000 protestors boycotting the public transit system, and made it all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled against the town and for end of segregation on public transport. The bus company suffered financially as 75% of its customers were Black. Of course, things were more complex than this, and the detail can be found here1. 

A long-standing example of collective action is the boycott of Nestle. Personally, I have not used Nestle products since birth, as my mother would tell me the horror stories of their baby milk scandal that surrounded them in the 1970s and 80s. The campaign, which grew out of concern for mothers, particularly in the global south, was a response to Nestle’s aggressive advertising campaign around their baby milk formula, which was exposed by the War on Want. Babies were dying due to formula being mixed with dirty water. As I grew up I made my own choices not to use Nestle products, based on this, their involvement in deforestation in order to produce massive amounts of palm oil for their products, and scandals surrounding how they source their bottled water. It is no surprise that according to IBFAN, Nestle is the most boycotted company in the UK. It can become increasingly difficult to boycott companies as so many are bought, sold and owned by one another, but finding the time to research and join boycott movements can be a powerful and ethical way to exist in a commercial, capitalist society.   

Our attention and our commerce hold power! Who we choose to spend our money and attention on matter. It is a simple and important act to boycott and can also be achieved by making ethical purchasing choices; say you only buy fairtrade chocolate, you are boycotting products that don’t offer their workers a fair pay. Timothy 6:17 calls on us to do good with our finances. Who we give our money to matters, but it is also bigger than that. In today’s world who we give our attention to also matters. Attention is something that cannot be bought or sold but can platform others. By removing our attention and our commerce from events, organisations, companies and people we disagree with, we can begin to make a strong difference.  

So, whether you choose to boycott singing competitions, switch banks, only buy fair trade, stop using fast fashion - you are protesting! Keep doing it and encourage others to do the same- knowing your money and attention holds power!