Boycotting Brands

As my group chats are flooded with infographics, links, and lists prompting me to boycott hundreds of brands and businesses in light of their abhorrent responses to the Black Lives Matter movement or their gross negligence to promote racial diversity and equal treatment, I felt overwhelmed.

Over the last few years, I started to develop my own short list of brands and stores where I refuse to shop. Chick-fil-A, because of their donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations. Walmart, because of its horrific workers right violations and labor conditions (among countless other things). Nestlé , Mars, and Hershey’s, because of exploitative labor practices (this one was hard – I do love chocolate, but human rights seemed far more important).

With my personal decision to boycott these brands, I developed and understood my rationale for doing so. I was, personally, coming to terms with my priorities (self-interest vs denouncing disgusting practices). I spent hours researching each issue and company, ultimately deciding I could live without Chick-fil-a chicken or a Hershey’s chocolate bar for the rest of my life, because every time I made the decision to eat one, I knew I would be reminded of what I was contributing to. This decision calculus was not, and is still not, easy. I am constantly tempted, which is kind of embarrassing. I feel ashamed to admit that I struggle with making the decision to not support a company that uses hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children as labor or one that feels comfortable continuing to perpetuate homophobia. Recently, I have been forced to confront these decisions and my general thought process on this matter much more.

Over the past few weeks, I have been forwarded and sent lists of hundreds of companies to boycott for a variety of reasons (see end for somewhat comprehensive list). From Whole Foods, Starbucks, Target, and Nordstrom to Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Reformation, Urban Outfitters, and Bounty to Neutrogena, Advil, Tylenol and Chap-Stick, I have seen hundreds of brands and products that I use appear on boycott lists. These companies have been accused of everything from child labor, prison labor, racial discrimination, LGBTQ+ discrimination, to insensitivity and intolerance, modern slavery in supply chains, etc.

In light of this, I struggle to parse though everything in this information overload. It seems as if I have to start sewing my own clothes, producing my own household products, and concocting my own medicines. I don’t mean to be insensitive, because I believe that these companies’ practices should be called out and their leaders should be reprimanded; but, I am lost as to what I can do to still conduct my life as usual and take a meaningful stance on these human rights issues that I very strongly believe in.

I am unsure as to whether it makes me selfish that I stopped doing research to find alternatives for some of these products and companies – for the sole reason of inconvenience. The classic argument we often hear, or at least that I often hear, is why bother? “Why bother because your $5, maybe $1000, maybe $10,000, of lost business isn’t going to drastically change the company’s ways.” And, I guess that is true.  I am too comfortable with this way of thinking in light of the all the information I receive. I genuinely care about the issues these boycotts are calling out and I want to contribute, but I am unable to process how. I feel lazy and selfish, for not willing to put in the work. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed and anxious about all the new information.

While I have identified other ways for me to contribute to the issues these boycotts address, I am definitely still in the process of imagining when and what would be enough? How many companies and brands would I have to boycott if I was steadfast in my commitment to human rights, and other personal beliefs? How many other people would I have to join in this commitment to impact decision-making and policies at a corporate or legal level? Is this an effective method of pressuring and incentivizing corporate change?