In the months prior to its start, the boycott of the World Cup in Qatar gained ground. In France, several mayors They had announced that their city will not broadcast the event on giant screens as usual. various personalities they decided not to attend or follow the event. Journalists invite athletes and politicians to take a position. And in bars and restaurants, fans discuss whether the pleasure of watching the games should be dispensed with.
The boycott is one of these possible links.
Boycott: where the term comes from
In the Irish countryside at the end of the 19th century, Charles C. Boycott, a manager in the service of a wealthy landowner, disproportionately raised the rents of the peasants attached to his lands. This led to the eviction of the farmers, who were already weakened by famine.
An Irish nationalist leader then proposed to the affected families and, more broadly, to all the inhabitants of these regions (merchants, employees, etc.) that they ostracize C.C. Boycott, that is, that they reject all daily contact with him. The proposal was then extended to all the owners who increased their rent and to the farmers who took over the lands of the evicted. A journalist of the time coined the term boycottturning this family name into a common noun to designate these modes of action.
Although the term is most often used today to refer to a refusal to do business with a company, not all boycotts refer to commercial products. For example, in 1936 there was a big campaign to boycott the Berlin Olympics in various countries due to the rise to power of the Nazi regime.
More recently, at the request of Palestinian intellectuals and academics, a boycott campaign called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Since 2005, this initiative has called for an economic, academic, cultural and political boycott of the State of Israel in protest against the colonization and occupation of Palestinian lands.
Today, it is the World Cup in Qatar that has been the subject of boycott calls for countless reasons, including environmental and social ones (for example, the number of workers exploited and killed to build the stadiums).
From Rosa Parks to Danone
One of the most famous boycotts in history was that of 1955 against transportation services offered by the Montgomery Bus Company in Alabama.
One afternoon in December, an African-American seamstress named Rosa Parks sat at the front of a bus in one of the seats reserved for “white” passengers. She was imprisoned for “disturbing public order”, which became the starting point of a movement that lasted more than a year.
Black passengers stopped using the company’s services, encouraged by an association created by a pastor, Martin Luther King. Other users did not use them either, out of solidarity or fear. Private vehicles came to act as taxis on a large scale and the activists resisted.
Thirteen months later, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were contrary to the US Constitution. The boycott of a road transport service was therefore an important step in a broader political mobilization, such as that of the American civil rights movementsuggesting that a consumer protest may help push the grievances beyond the service in question.
In 1995, the NGO Greenpeace launched an international boycott against the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell. The problem was that the company intended to sink a storage platform in the North Sea with several thousand tons of oil on board. While British activists strove to be heard, the association’s German members took various actions, including a boycott of Shell service stations.
In Germany, the boycott was so successful that Shell decided to take its platform to the mainland and dismantle it. Also in this case, the boycott of a consumer product (in this case, fuel), beyond national borders, made it possible to influence the economic balance of power and make environmental demands triumph.
In the 2000s, the French company Danone considered closing several biscuit factories, considered less profitable than its other activities, which affected its stock market value. When the plant closures were announced, various forms of action were taken at the initiative of unions and workers. Among them, a widely publicized call for a boycott was launched and supported by several political figures.
Despite the media success of this mobilization, Danone did not give in. Although the demands of the mobilized consumers were unsuccessful this time, the boycott contributed to lasting damage to the company’s brand image and legitimized the fight against stock market layoffsa fight that has not stopped gaining legitimacy in the French political debate ever since.
Collective and well-informed choices
What can we learn from these boycotts? For the researchers Ingrid Nyström and Patricia Vendramin, the first thing that stands out is the diversity of stakeholders: unions, politicians, NGOs, lawyers, state representatives, as well as ordinary citizens.
Therefore, we must be careful not to link (non-)consumption practices to individual consumer choices. Another lesson is that these mobilizations should not be described as new or alternative. In many cases, they rely on old repertoires (scandalization, media coverage, prosecution, etc.) and political institutions (politicians, established associations, etc.).
Furthermore, it is important not to reduce the success or failure of a boycott to the achievement of a concrete demand. Let us remember that the boycott of Danone is part of the legitimization of a political action against the stock market layoffs in general, and has thus fueled the idea that the benefits obtained by shareholders of multinationals when employees suffer a crisis are illegitimate.
Finally, one could add that boycotts should not be too quickly associated with progressive and/or environmental causes, as demonstrated by the 2018 boycott of Nike by many angry American consumers because the brand chose the football player as their image. Afro-American Colin Kaepernickthe man who knelt down first time during the national anthem in support of the fight against police violence and discrimination against African-Americans.
An unequal mode of protest
However, although committed consumption is a authentic mechanism of political action, these approaches remain uneven. Statistically, the use of boycott in Europe is much more frequent in Northern and Western Europe and much less in Europe south and east.
Likewise, and not surprisingly, this type of movement has spread more among the middle classes of the service sector. with higher educational level.
but there is notable exceptions, as in South Africa against apartheid or in India against British colonialism. And boycotts are becoming more frequent in countries called from the south. In Morocco, for example, the mobilizations of 2018 “against the high cost of life” directed to Sidi Ali mineral waterthe milk of Centrale Danone Y Afriquia gas stations They were especially busy.
But let’s go back to the calls for a boycott of the soccer World Cup. It is important not to conclude that the protest movement has failed because no delegation has given up sending your national team.
There are many forms of boycotting (refusing to show interest, not going to games, not watching games, not buying items like national team jerseys, etc.), and much criticism has been raised about the implications of holding the event in Qatar. which have gradually gained legitimacy. The boycott is only the first step.
(By Hélène Ducourant, The Conversation)