I don’t shop at Amazon. I’ve never been in a Chick-Fil-A. I don’t get my clothes from Shein, and I don’t pay for things at Hobby Lobby. There’s plenty of alternatives to shopping at these corporations, and they’re fairly accessible (if not feasible for everyone): you can avoid Amazon by finding the item you need on a smaller seller’s website, you can get inexpensive clothes by thrifting. Many of us also buy more things than we need, and this can be addressed with the simple solution of buying less.
Because you probably already know the problems with the corporations listed above — they’re kind of blatantly evil. It doesn’t take much digging around to see that Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby are blatantly homophobic, that Shein uses sweatshops, that Amazon exploits its workers, that all of these companies are contributing massively to climate change. And history shows us that when corporations have very clear ethical issues, sustained consumer boycotts can help force them to change — just look at what people achieved with bus boycotts in Montgomery in the ‘60s, and with anti-Apartheid boycotts in the ‘80s.
Many large-scale contemporary boycotts are also proving themselves to be effective. There’s evidence that the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement could put real pressure on Israel’s government. While Amazon is still doing well, the amount of money that they’ve been spending on ads claiming that they don’t abuse their workers suggests to me that they’re genuinely concerned that the public will quit buying from them. I’m personally involved in the movement for fossil fuel and military divestment at St. Olaf, and I’ll report that it’s actually working. As a result of student protests, many American colleges and universities are starting to remove their million dollar fossil fuel industry investments, which, while not a complete solution, is a genuinely inspirational phenomenon.
For all of the above reasons, I hope you’ll join me in boycotting harmful corporations — it’s definitely worth a shot. But, if it’s not too much to ask, I also hope that you won’t stop at that. Boycotts aren’t the only helpful way to address the current era of late-capitalist disaster. If you really want to make things better, I would suggest two more steps in addition to boycotting evil corporations.
First, support labor unions. I think of labor strikes as the other side of the boycotting coin. A group of people can break free from a system of corporate abuse by refusing to buy the commodities that the corporation makes — this is a boycott. A group of people can also escape that system by withholding their labor from the corporation, in a strike. Strikes can even be more effective, because they disrupt the initial and most basic element of business’ operations. So, the next time you decide not to buy something from, say, Amazon, also research what kinds of support Amazon workers’ unions are asking for.
Second — at the risk of getting too broad in this 500-word article — consider moving beyond capitalism in your own life. The corporations that we boycott are problematic in specific, changeable ways, but what if the larger system makes it impossible for them to ever be truly ethical? Bezos may be uniquely evil, but is there really any way that anyone has made a billion dollars without exploiting people? It’s possible to boycott capitalism, too, and I would recommend doing it. Consider participating in alternative economic systems–get involved with worker co-ops, join a housing co-op, learn about community land trusts and community supported agriculture, donate to or request from a mutual aid fund. Whatever your consumer ethics may be, I would encourage you to think beyond the system of corporate exploitation, to believe that another world is possible, and to make your actions reflect that belief.
Charlotte Smith is from Boulder, Colo.
Her majors are creative writing and English.