A few weeks ago, I posted the question(s):
What do you think about boycotting? Is it something you have done, are doing, or would do in the future? Do you think it’s actually effective, or not? What is/are your motivations for doing it?
First off, let me just say I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to post my views on the subject! Things have been pretty chaotic here at work – people coming, people going, summer plans, etc – but I’ve finally found the time to sit down and write out my thoughts on the topic in a (hopefully) understandable way.
Let me begin by saying that I recognize boycotting is absolutely a personal choice of every individual. I don’t believe it to be an issue with a “right” or “wrong” answer; every person has their own personal view, birthed out of their own theology, worldview, and personality. That’s absolutely okay. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it:
Personally speaking, I don’t think I have ever consciously made the choice to boycott something. That’s not because I’m against boycotting, it’s simply because up to this point in my life, I have never been forced to decide whether I should or should not boycott something.
As I’ve been considering what my stance on boycotting is and why, I’ve come to one major realization which has seriously impacted my viewpoint: oftentimes, it seems that boycotting can be a bit of a cop out. That may ruffle some feathers, but let me explain what I mean by proposing a hypothetical scenario:
A major news outlet catches wind of the fact that a massive electronics retail chain known as Buy More has been producing 100% of their products in sweat shops manned by underpaid workers – including children – in southeast Asia.
Situations and stories like this are not uncommon (sadly), and it then becomes up to every individual to decide what action they will take.
Let’s say that some people are outraged and decide to boycott Buy More. For the ensuing six months, they intentionally purchase electronics from other stores (who may or may not be using sweat shops in Asia). Although Buy More’s business is somewhat hurt, it isn’t too severe and they live on as a company.
Here’s the cop out: I’ve seen this situation happen a number of times. An individual decides to boycott a company based on their sense of ethics/morality, and so they abstain from spending money there. Due to their boycott, they feel as if they are fulfilling their moral obligation, and their consciences are soothed. But the reality is that there are still children and adults being severely underpaid and overworked in sweatshops in southeast Asia. While the individual feels he/she has done their part, they aren’t actually bringing justice to the individuals being mistreated.
Urbandictionary.com (which is not a reputable source and which I do not recommend, but which gives the most straightforward definition I could find) defines “cop out” as: “An excuse designed to shirk responsibility; refers to taking the easy way out of a situation.”
That seems to fit our hypothetical situation quite well. Individuals feel better, but they aren’t actually affecting much change. In one sense, you could say that this is a form of “minimal selfish action” – doing the bare minimum that must be done to relieve their own personal discomfort. It’s the same approach we take when we kill a mosquito that’s biting our arm; our genuine concern, deep down, is not so much helping those other people who are being mistreated; it’s making ourselves feel comfortable again. We’re getting ourselves off the hook from genuinely helping others, but we’re we’re not actually being proactive at all. If not done carefully, boycotting can be nothing more than a feel-good way to turn a blind eye to those individuals who are suffering from injustice.
Now that it seems like I’ve completely shot down boycotting and must be totally opposed to it, let me say this: History shows us that boycotting actually does work. It doesn’t always work, but when enough determined individuals put pressure on a company or organization (and stop the cash flow to that company or organization), the company changes it’s policy.
Problem is, that doesn’t happen too often.
My conclusion is this: boycotting can be a good thing, but if it is done, it must be the bare minimum. We ought to spend our time and money wisely, and to try not to perpetuate injustice. But the Bible commands the Christian to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If the roles were reversed, and we were the ones suffering from abuse and injustice, would we honestly be able to say of the people boycotting the companies we’re forced to work for, “At least they’ve done all they can”?
No. We wouldn’t.
We aren’t actually loving, unless we’re doing absolutely everything we can.
It’s important to note that doing “everything we can” can take a million different shapes. “Everything we can” varies incredibly depending on the gifts, talents, time, and finances of each individual. But until we take the time to sit down and figure out what “everything we can” really means for each one of us, we’re failing to love as Jesus commands us to.
What is “everything you can” do?