Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 28, 2009


The Progressive Review was one of the early journals to give coverage to the Whole Foods boycott and it somewhat stunned us to discover that just two weeks later, there are over 2 million links to the boycott issue on Google.

Judging from the mail we have received and comments elsewhere, the issue has neatly divided iconic liberals from populist progressives, with the former sticking to their favorite brands - i.e. Whole Foods and Obama - while the latter are concentrating on the issues underneath the symbolism. It also seems that boycotts have become so rare in the contemporary liberal repertoire that they appear to some as vaguely subversive or otherwise dangerous. While one can logically argue that a Whole Foods boycott would not be effective or is aimed at the wrong target, the generally weak liberal support for single payer healthcare and other core issues suggests something more is at work. It is probably another sign of what might be called check-off liberalism: you check off a ballot or a petition - or send a check off to some cause - and your work is done.

Our own view is that the WF effort is a classic case of a boycott that could work. The potential boycotters are the very people the target depends upon. Additionally, the boycott is a direct attack on the marketing symbolism of the company. All in all, in a time of little action, a nice example of what people could be doing more of. Come to think of it, a six month boycott of recording companies represented by RIAA might not be a bad idea either.

Maureen Turner, Valley Advocate - [WF CEO John Mackey] was already the nemesis of organized labor and other progressives before his op-ed ran. The CEO also opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, and in April, Mother Jones magazine (available for purchase, by the way, at the checkout racks at Whole Foods) reported that it had obtained an internal company document that named remaining "100 percent union-free" as a key corporate goal. . .

Jobs with Justice and the Single Payer Network point out that there are other local food stores that support their communities, including Stop and Shop, which is unionized, and Northampton's River Valley Market co-op.

Wikipedia - A boycott is a form of consumer activism involving the act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with someone or some other organization as an expression of protest, usually of political reasons.

Although the term itself was not coined until 1880, the practice dates back to at least 1830, when the National Negro Convention encouraged a boycott of slave-produced goods. Other instances of boycotts are their use by African Americans during the US civil rights movement (notably the Montgomery Bus Boycott); the United Farm Workers union grape and lettuce boycotts; the American boycott of British goods at the time of the American Revolution; the Indian boycott of British goods organized by Mohandas Gandhi; the successful Jewish boycott organized against Henry Ford in the USA, in the 1920s; the boycott of Japanese products in China after the May Fourth Movement; the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott of German goods in Lithuania, the USA, Britain and Poland during 1933. . .

Boycotts are now much easier to successfully initiate due to the Internet. Examples include the gay and lesbian boycott of advertisers of the Dr. Laura talk show, gun owners' similar boycott of advertisers of Rosie O'Donnell's talk show and (later) magazine, and gun owners' boycott of Smith & Wesson following that company's March 2000 settlement with the Clinton administration. They may be initiated very easily using either Web sites (the Dr. Laura boycott), newsgroups (the Rosie O'Donnell boycotts), or even mailing lists. Internet-initiated boycotts "snowball" very quickly compared to other forms of organization.

Another form of consumer boycotting is substitution for an equivalent product; for example, Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola have been marketed as substitutes for Coca-Cola among Muslim populations.

Academic boycotts have been organized against countries. For example, the mid and late 20th century academic boycotts of South Africa in protest of apartheid practices and the less successful but more recent academic boycotts of Israel.

Some boycotts center on particular businesses, such as recent protests regarding Costco, Walmart, Ford Motor Company, or the diverse products of Philip Morris. Another form of boycott identifies a number of different companies involved in a particular issue, such as the Sudan Divestment campaign, the Boycott Bush campaign. The Boycott Bush website was set up by Ethical Consumer after U.S. President George W. Bush failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol - the website identifies Bush's corporate funders and the brands and products they produce. . .

Boycotts are unquestionably legal under the common law. The right to engage in commerce, social intercourse, and friendship implies the right not to engage in commerce, social intercourse, and friendship; since a boycott is voluntary and nonviolent, it is unable to be stopped by the law. Opponents of boycotts historically have the choice of suffering under it, yielding to its demands, or attempting to suppress it through extralegal means, such as force and coercion.


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