Boycotting is not as effective as you’d think

Security guards at a Scottish shopping mall detained a man and confiscated his cell phone earlier this month after he took a picture of his daughter eating ice cream. According to a BBC article, the man acted in violation of the shopping center’s no-photography policy. Of course, this does seem a bit extreme.

The picture, all over the Internet now, clearly features nothing but a small girl eating ice cream on the back of a fake pink Vespa — innocent family fun. If I were her father, I’d be pretty hesitant about going back to that shopping center. That’s understandable.

And if I were looking for a family photo op, I’d also probably stay away. But otherwise, I’d assume the shopping center is as good as always for things like shopping.

However, more than 21,000 people disagree. A Facebook campaign called “Boycott Braehead” received that many likes after the incident made global news. And three similar pages popped up too, “Just in case the Boycott Braehead page closes,” according to one’s title.

But another Facebook page popped up as well, suggesting a slightly more original point. Called “Boycott the ‘boycott Braehead’ attention seeker’s page,” it doesn’t contain much of an explanation. But somehow, the thought of boycotting boycotts seems reasonable in today’s reactionary climate.

Often, today’s boycotts are ineffective and poorly thought out. While a group of Scottish citizens has every right to protest against a shopping mall’s policies, their refusal to visit stores there does little to make a point.

Boycotts like these hurt business owners. But in reality, corporate polices — or perhaps just the attitudes of a few security guards — are to blame.

This same concept holds true in the case of BP, the oil giant responsible for the worst spill in US history. Over 800,000 people like the “Boycott BP” page on Facebook, and various other pages urge people to visit different convenient stores.

But an article on Daily Finance makes a valid point. The article, entitled “Boycott BP? That Hurts Station Owners — Not the Company,” points out that only 100 of approximately 900 BP gas stations across the nation are owned by BP itself. The others belong to independent business owners — people not in any way responsible for a corporate mistake.

Not only does boycotting these stations hurt innocent owners, but it also misses the target entirely, having no effect on those actually responsible.

Another example of ineffective consumer activism? Boycott Arizona. The movement to avoid Arizona by cities, groups and people unhappy with SB1070 and other immigration policies practices even less coherent logic. This boycott doesn’t just miss the target — it might even hurt immigrants even more.

When fewer people travel to Arizona, the economy suffers. And when the economy suffers, the political, social and legal climate becomes worse for scapegoats like undocumented immigrants. Thus, the boycott hurts who it aims to protect.

Of course, not all boycotts are futile. Historically noted acts did serve their purpose — like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It damaged the public transit system substantially, eventually contributing to the elimination of segregation on public transit.

But perhaps in 1955, it was easier for citizens to see whom their actions affected. If today’s consumers want to make a difference, they’ll have to do a little more research.

Reach the columnist at algrego1@asu.edu

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