Friday, July 6, 2012

Your Retail Boycott Is Misdirected

Hardly a day goes buy that I don't get a email from someone, usually a fellow Catholic, urging me to boycott some retailer or another. These "feel good" messages typically point out a corporate policy and inform me that I should be outraged and refuse to do business with the company. There is often the implied message that I am going against my faith by not complying. In truth, most of the time the corporate policy in question is one I disagree with, but that doesn't convince me to boycott the business. In fact, I often find the plea to be somewhat hypocritical.

First, let me explain why I generally don't go along with these boycotts, and why that decision is not contrary to my faith. Typically, the offending business is a large corporation that has made some contribution to a cause that I do in fact find immoral. Does that make me culpable if I patronize their local store? No, not if my intent is to buy a product, and not to support the cause. My intent determines my guilt in supporting or cooperating with evil. For instance, one of the latest pleas is to boycott Starbucks because the company supports gay "marriage." When I buy a coffee from the local shop, am I doing so because I support redefining a Sacrament of the Church? No, I'm buying the coffee because I want a consistently made, somewhat decedent and over-priced cup of coffee. My support, if you want to call it that, of the local retailer and their employees in no way indicates support for what I consider an immoral lifestyle. Is Starbucks in business for the purpose of supporting gay marriage? No, Starbuck is the business of selling me a consistently made, somewhat decedent and over-priced cup of coffee. My action is too far removed from the corporate policies to make me culpable. I am not cooperating in the actions of the corporation.

It is also interesting that local Starbucks employees are active in helping the homeless and those in need. My patronage of the local store would have a greater affect on these local folks, than the corporate board room. Ironically, it wasn't too long ago that the tables were turned and folks were urging a boycott of Starbucks because they do support traditional American, and Constitutional values.

The Target chain is another target (sorry) of a boycott call. Apparently the chain sells a "gay pride" t-shirt. Don't like the "gay pride" shirt? Don't buy it. Shopping at Target doesn't make me a supporter of "gay marriage." If I purchased the offending items, that would be a different story.

Ironically again, Target faced a boycott a couple years ago because they gave money to an "anti-gay" political candidate.

I don't give money to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. I don't vote for politicians who support positions I find offensive or immoral. Those would be direct actions that would make me guilty of cooperating with evil. As opposed to the Starbucks example, Planned Parenthood's main function, the reason for its existence, is immoral. To give support to them would be to directly support their mission.

I mentioned the hypocrisy of the boycott calls, emailed to me using a computer that is either running the Windows operating system, or the system from Apple. The Gates Foundation is one of the largest global supporters of abortion and sterilization world wide. And Apple Computer uses its corporate wealth to support redefining marriage. So maybe the senders of these emails aren't really all that sold on using the boycott as a tool after all. I'll make a deal with you. You stop using products from these companies, and I'll reconsider where I buy my morning coffee.


  1. Great post! As a pretty liberal guy I can completely agree with you. It just goes to show you that if you strip away all of the labels that create certain judgments or assumptions about someone or something, and then view it in its barest form, you can have some common ground from which to begin to work together.

    As far as those calling for boycotts, if they believe in the need to boycott so strongly then they should be able to stand alone in their belief. They would not need to have others join them in supporting their cause in order to feel good about it. Also, one cannot make others adopt their assumptions. The other person has to join with complete free will if they are to serve the cause in the most dedicated manner. And that should only be after a dedicated period of reflection upon whether the issue really matters to them intrinsically.

    I muse about life skills and craft beer over at

  2. Fine. I'll run Linux... ;)

    I would offer this quibble to your otherwise fine argument, David. The purpose of a boycott or buycott is to effect a change in Policy, in the hopes of hurting or helping the secondary organization. It is a carrot and stick approach, but it hinges on mass support. It also hinges on the concept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" If you support the aim, you join in. If you can distance yourself from the material cooperation with evil(as opposed to direct), which you have demonstrated go ahead and buy the liquid charcoal. It is a balancing act. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to be the first person to send smoke signals over the intertubes...

    It requies opening Windows...

  3. CBC and TC, appreciate the comments. Now I'm just trying to figure out if I should boycott target because they sell a t-shirt promoting an immoral act, or if I should support them because they allowed their pharmacists to follow their personal morals and not dispense abortion-producing drugs. :-)

  4. A boycott is also difficult to follow through on because so many companies are intertwined in ownership. If you boycott Company X, you really need to boycott Company Y and Company Z because they are owned by Company X. But you probably don't even know about the relationship between the three companies.

  5. Very true PH. That's why I prefer to spend my energy in proactive campaigns, such as letter writing, prayer, talking to other Catholics, etc., rather than passive boycotts based on the offense du jour. Most of these companies give to both "sides" over the course of time.


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