Should You Have A Boycott List?

You’re an activist. You are committed to effecting change in your world. You know that hitting the corporate or institutional pocketbook can be an good way to get someone’s attention. But, you’re just one person. So, why should you have a boycott list?

boycott-graphicI have had a boycott list for a some time now. A few examples:
  • For many years, I and my family ate at Chick-Fil-A regularly. In 2012, though, we stopped, due to the founder’s comments about gay people and same-sex marriage. We haven’t eaten there since.
  • I could save money by going to WalMart, but I don’t. Why? Because of the way they exploit their people and the communities around them, and because of their actions against unions and union organizers.
I have done these things somewhat reflexively, basically just reacting to what I had learned about the companies. Lately, though, I’ve put more thought into this, and I want to share some of that with you.

The Two Types of Boycotts

There are two basic types of boycotts, the personal and the group. Here’s what I mean:
  • A personal boycott list is my list of places that I will not support due to concerns with their ethics, morals, or policy/political stances. Essentially, a personal boycott list is me living out my own ethical or moral code, via my own money and actions. I don’t necessarily try to get others to join me, and I may or may not make a point of letting the business or institution know. I honor the boycott as a way to stand up for what I believe, whether or not it necessarily affects the business I’m boycotting.
  • A group boycott, on the other hand, is specifically meant to affect a given business or institution. It may be punitive, but the most effective ones are not seeking to hurt the institution as much as get it to change by calling widespread attention to the company’s practices. Again, the point is less about hurting the company’s bottom line (although that will often happen), and more about hurting the company’s image.
There are many articles on how to make group boycotts effective (see links below), and if you are going to try to do a group boycott you certainly want to learn the steps to making it as effective as possible. I think, though, that there are a few things you can do with your own personal boycott list to also make it more effective.

How to Make Your Personal Boycott List More Effective

  • Know your list. You should be clear about who you are boycotting, and even more, what your reasons are. If something changes, you may need to revise your list. If I am boycotting Chick-Fil-A because of the owner’s opposition to gays, and the owner makes an about-face on the issue, I should consider whether to keep them on the list.
  • Be calmly clear about your list to others. I’m not saying make a big statement about it. But, if someone else suggests patronizing an establishment that is on your personal boycott list, you can say “Sorry, I don’t shop there. Can we go to ____?” This is another reason to be clear about why you are doing this: you can give a cogent reason to explain your request not to spend money there.
  • Contact the management. This is taking it to another level, isn’t it? I mean, it’s one thing to vote with your wallet. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to let the persons in charge know why you aren’t coming there any longer. But, isn’t this just another way to make a difference? And, is it not possible that your lonely communication might still have an impact?


To honor my own ethical and progressive code, I have my own personal boycott list. After thinking about it, and writing this post, I’m going to be more intentional about how I manage that list, and how I use whatever influence I have to effect change through my actions. I encourage you to consider doing the same.
What about you? Do you have a list of companies you boycott? Or do you think it’s not worth the bother? Let me know in the comments!

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