Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Amateur's Guide to Boycotts

Even before recent events, there had been discussion - how much can/should/does/will a person's behavior affect your decisions about participating in their business? Art or otherwise. Acting, painting, writing, or selling pizzas. It is an interesting question and certainly one I have wondered about myself. There are those that say that someone's behavior in their personal life is their business and shouldn't be factored in to purchasing decisions. Others say that they refuse to provide monetary rewards for people who do things they disagree with.

Both positions contain a bit of naivete. On the one hand, certainly in this day and age where I have choices on just about everything, I probably have some responsibility to try not to support certain things. Terrorism for example. But on the other hand any company or person examined too closely will probably have some mistake, error, belief or process that I don't agree with. So, does it make sense for me to factor these things in to my decision making. And in particular do I have the right to judge or determine appropriate personal behavior or beliefs that didn't directly affect me?

And I often wonder also, if I choose to factor in these things, how do I determine who is deserving of my money. Do I have a responsibility to research each establishment, to make sure their choices align with my beliefs. Or can I leave it to the media, assuming if I have heard nothing, then I am safe? And if I choose not to support one company for a decision, how do I make sure that the people who get my money instead are not also engaging in things that would make me unhappy. Is it okay if I stop shopping at the place that is using endangered forests for their catalogs, but keep shopping at the place where the employees have been forbidden to unionize? Okay, I'll give up the can't unionize place, but can I still keep shopping at the place where all their clothes are made in Malaysia for probably criminal wages, since I haven't heard anything icky about their factories? If I give up Jude Law movies, do I have to give up Robin Williams movies? Or has the statute of limitations run out on that? Is it okay if I watch "Breakfast at Tiffanys" or "Dumbo" even though they both contain ridiculous racial stereotypes since that stuff was considered more acceptable at the time the movies were made? Is it okay that I enjoyed so-and-so's work before I knew s/he was a complete idiot? Is there a point at which I might be thinking about this too much?

So based on my minutes and hours pondering this in traffic, some rules. Or really ways to make rules.

*It is certainly possible to make the argument that no one person or organization could withstand serious scrutiny. Anytime humans are involved their will be faults. So the first question is, are you going to factor this in to your purchasing. If not, you probably stopped reading already.

* Decide which things you are going to base your decisions on. There are personal things - religious beliefs (your or theirs), political beliefs, adultery, murder. There are corporate things - fraud, labor practices, environmental practices, political fundraising. (And sure, corporate things can circle back to being people things too.) This list may be small or large, static or evolving.

* Decide how much you are going to boycott. For companies: Are you focusing on a product or product line? The whole company? What about possible subsidiaries or parent companies? For people: Are you not going to watch/see/be in the presence of their work? Is there an exemption for works they produce or direct but don't star in? What if they are in it with three other really awesome people and you go to the matinee?

* Decide the extent of your boycott. What happens if you have an opportunity to see, watch or otherwise enjoy the thing you are boycotting for free. Whether it is a gift certificate, at a friend's house, or an office event. Is your boycott still in play or are you going to let it pass when the money has already been spent.

* Decide what your goal is. Obviously you are trying to impact the person's or company's bottom line. Is there a change they could make that you would lift your boycott? If so, if it is a corporation I suggest contacting it.

*Decide the length of your boycott. Is there a point where the behavior, action or stance fades. For example, do you move on from the person who cheated on her spouse after a certain number of years. (This may bear more consideration when there is no specific goal per above.) Or are the actions such that there is no end date (at least for now)?

Happy boycotting! (If in fact that is what you decided to do.)