“Boycotts don’t work” so why are students doing them? 

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The war in Gaza has led to many boycotting, places like Starbucks or MacDonalds, to allow their voice to be heard. However, there has been little to no evidence that these boycotts have actually worked. (Photo Courtesy of Kaelyn McCann)

The war in Gaza has sparked outrage among many. With so many feeling helpless, they have taken to boycotting prominent brands that are supporting Israel in the war. 

The point of a boycott is to show lawmakers and companies that the people don’t agree with their policies and stances, so they don’t financially support them.

There, as with any boycott, has been criticism of the boycotts saying they don’t work. Even with this criticism, there are still a handful of students who chose to participate.

Boycotts don’t work

People often say that boycotts don’t work because it’s hard to get enough people on board for a long enough time to see change.

An example of an unsuccessful boycott is the Apple boycott in 2018 in response to the company not deleting the National Rifle Channel from their streaming service after the Parkland shooting. But after the boycott idea was brought up, little to nothing happened. 

Another example of an unsuccessful boycott is the Chick-fil-A boycott that began in the 2010s but got a boost due to TikTok in 2020. After learning about Chick-fil-A funding anti-LGBTQ+ organizations many began boycotting the restaurant. There has been no evidence found that this boycott had much of an impact. 

While it has been reported that Starbucks has lost 11 million dollars, it is unconfirmed if this is actually from the boycotts or a combination of other issues in the business exacerbated by the boycott. 

So, why didn’t these boycotts work? 

“I think it is hard to boycott when there are a lot of different boycotts happening because I feel like people will begin to think there is too much so there is no point at all… or when the boycott is over something that feels small so it feels like a dramatic reaction,” said Georgia Lilley, junior. 

This idea was seen in the Apple boycott and the current Palestine boycotts. The 2018 Apple boycott was over, what can be seen as, a small oversight on the company’s behalf— not taking down the channel. To ask people to boycott a company that is used by most every single day can be seen as extreme. 

“I think stuff like that can also play into cancel culture and X-ing thing out for smaller mistakes… and that’s like helpful for no one,” said Matthew Cash, junior. 

“Boycott overload” is also something that has been seen in the current Palestine protest. Lists have been shared on social media of upwards of 15 companies to boycott. “I don’t think it is doable to have a mass amount of people boycott that many brands, which many of us use a lot, for a long enough amount of time for there to be success from it,” said Lilley. 

The reason why boycotts in the past have worked is because they are targeted and have had widespread support, the latter often coming out of luck. 

If you look at the Montgomery Bus Boycott, out of the 50,000 Black residents 30,000-40,000 participated for over a year, that is around 70% of residents. What made this boycott so successful was the fact that it was targeted, and a large portion of a specific group (Montgomery citizens) participated. This widespread participation allowed Montgomery citizens to lean on each other by creating carpool systems to allow the boycott to continue for longer and be successful. 

Another example of a successful boycott is when North Carolina passed House Bill 2, or the Bathroom Bill, in 2016 requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that aligned with their sex. Companies like Paypal and the NCAA boycotted the state which led to NC rescinding the bill. This boycott worked because it was at a corporation level, leading to a lot of revenue lost. 

By having a large group boycott one specific thing, the pressure is felt more than that same group boycotting a lot of different companies.

Why are students doing them?  

A big reason for student boycotts is to try and make a change in some way. “I think boycotting is good because it is a simple way to make change… and even if there aren’t any results then it reminds yourself what is going on in the world because you’ll say ‘oh, I’m not supporting them because of such-and-such happening’,” said Lilley.

“I think boycotting is important because hitting the government where it works, which is economics, is powerful and effective,” said Ixsy Mejia, senior. 

A widespread argument against boycotts is the fact that they only impact the people at the bottom— the Starbucks baristas who will get a paycheck cut, not the CEOs and executives. 

“This is a valid argument… but, I mean, the Starbucks boycott began because [Starbucks] was firing people in the union who were speaking out about Palestine in the beginning. So it’s kinda a lose-lose situation,” said Mejia.  

“Boycotts are important, I feel, but they have to be done in a certain way to be affected… like having one specific target to boycott,” said Cash. 

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