January 22, 1995
Many people assume that a corporate campaign automatically involves a boycott of the retailer being targeted. This is not always the case. Whether or not to call a boycott is a decision that needs to be made at the start of a campaign, and then sometimes at key moments during the campaign.
When considering a boycott, you need to know whether the workers affected have decided that the benefits of a boycott outweigh the possible threat to their employment, and assess whether you can deliver on the threat of a boycott and whether an effective boycott will motivate the company to settle the dispute.
To date, MSN has decided against using the term "boycott" in our campaigns. In today's apparel industry, the image of the product being sold is almost as important as the actual sales. Any threat to the image associated with the label is taken very seriously by major retailers.
We have participated in a number of successful public campaigns in which an official boycott was never declared. Companies like Gap Inc. and Nike have responded to public pressure and media attention focused on the image associated with their products and the reputation of their company.
Of course, in the midst of these image-focused campaigns, many consumers do decide not to buy from a particular company. And companies do care when consumers say -- in letters or directly to store managers -- that they won't buy their products until they solve the problems. But this kind of effective pressure can be brought to bear without taking the step of declaring a boycott.
The most important factor in your decision about whether to call for a boycott as part of your campaign should be whether the workers whose rights you want to defend have authorized you to take that step. Ultimately, it is their jobs, their lives and their decision.