Against Consumer Boycotts

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This paper addresses the morality of consumer boycotts. The boycotts Amy considers are assumed to pursue unquestionably good and just ends. Even so, she will argue that boycotts can be construed as a kind of violent protest: they share with violent protests efforts to coerce changes in conduct through violence or threats of violence. And she will argue that boycotts are presumptively wrong for an additional reason: they violate market norms.

Other theorists have argued that political boycotts are presumptively wrong because they seek to effectuate political change in a sphere that is not governed by democratic procedures, and because boycotts stand to undermine substantive policies produced through the democratic process. In other words, by the lights of these theorists, the problem with boycotts is that they seek democratic ends in an undemocratic sphere. Or, more pithily put, boycotts are anti-democratic.

Amy argues that there is an additional problem with boycotts – namely, that they are anti-market. In particular, she is going to argue that boycotts disrupt market activity in ways that are presumptively unfair to sellers and other buyers. More pithily put, boycotts are akin to looting because boycotts “rob” retail businesses – not of their merchandise, but of the opportunity to have a fair shot at competing for consumer dollars.

The paper ends by contrasting boycotts with conscientious consumerism. Amy argues that the state should permit conscientious consumerism more readily than boycotts, but only when the conscientious consumer is an individual, and not where it is a corporation.