How to decide whether to boycott (anything)?
June 16, 2015 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How should I decide whether to boycott a company - specifically, Driscoll's berries, but also in general?

A friend recently told me about the boycott against Driscoll's berries, so I started trying to read up on the issue.

I support the idea of boycotts in general, and I'm happy to avoid Driscoll's if that's a useful thing to do.

My question is: how do you decide whether a particular call to boycott a company is worthwhile, and do you then avoid the product completely, or buy from another company?

It's my understanding that conditions for farm workers are pretty awful for most farm products in most places. In the absence of fair trade berries, is it best to

avoid all berries
avoid Driscoll berries and buy from some other company (if available; sometimes there's no alternative at the store), or
skip the boycott and try to find some other way to encourage better conditions for workers?

And in general: when you hear about a specific boycott, how do you go about deciding whether and how to participte?

posted by kristi to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not a direct answer to your question, but you might be interested in Buycott, an app that allows you to define causes you support and oppose and then claims to tell you whether a given product is a good purchase for you based on a scan of the barcode. It's also supposed to suggest alternatives, but the Driscoll's campaign is not offering any at the moment.

While I think it's true that the awful treatment of agricultural workers is the rule rather than the exception, campaigns against a particularly egregious offender can still be helpful in bringing attention to an industry-wide problem. I would say that even if other berry growers who mistreat their workers end up getting some extra windfall sales from people who heard about the Driscoll's boycott, it may be a net positive for workers' rights generally since even those manufacturers will see Driscoll's losing market share due to the boycott and potentially view preemptive reform as a good business move.
posted by contraption at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think most agricultural products are produced under exploitative, unethical conditions. I still eat fruit and vegetables. I do not eat Driscoll berries because the workers in question have specifically asked me to support their organized boycott.

Existing off air and water isn't an option; buying cherries or Fresh Picked strawberries or frozen blueberries is rather than go against the wishes of workers is.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thank you for caring and wanting to make conditions better. That being said, a single individual's not buying a product produced by a massive corporation will not make much difference, except to you. You will feel better for not supporting their practices.

As a person who has worked at a grocery co-op for decades, I have seen many boycotts. Boycotts with large organized and coordinated action plans sometimes contributed to change, but usually over many years duration. For instance, my co-op boycotted grapes for nearly 20 years during the Cesar Chavez years, but change came only after many years of not only boycotts but mass protests, letter writing, and lobbying.

If you join with others in an organized way, write letters to the corporation and your legislators, and share your concerns on social media you increase your chances of making a difference. And if you have the chance, buy locally grown berries produced by a small farmer.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:37 AM on June 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks for raising this issue. In addition to all of the above, you can ask whether the boycott campaign is being put together in a way that has some chance of success, and how your participation can contribute to that success.

In order to effect change, the boycott needs to be one part of a multi-pronged strategy targeting the corporation. The number of berries that you as one person purchase is not going to make any difference. Even if thousands of people stopped buying Driscoll's berries, that would be unlikely to be enough to create change at the Sakuma farm. It is the communication around the boycott, and the public shaming of partner corporations that will create the change.

In this case, the petition with 10,000 signatures that the Fair World Project sent to Driscoll could very well have an impact. Similarly, Whole Foods Market --- a major retailer of Driscoll's berries --- could be enlisted to pressure Driscoll's into taking action against Sakuma. For that to happen, people need to start raising the issue with Whole Foods, either spontaneously through social media, or as an organized campaign.

Supporting a boycott gives you authority to speak, but given the scale of our world it is likely that the speaking will have more impact than the individual buying decisions.
posted by alms at 11:10 AM on June 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have to amend my generality painting Driscoll's as a "particularly egregious offender": I found this article in the LA Times which places Driscoll's among the more enlightened growers in terms of labor relations, but still accuses them of some shady practices that the workers have specifically called for a boycott to protest. This makes me more inclined to support the boycott, since 1) Driscoll's has already found itself in a position where it has to come to the table and negotiate with its labor force, and I'm in favor of helping that labor force apply pressure in one of the few ways available and 2) Driscoll's/BerryMex workers seem to be the vanguard of the labor movement in their industry and gains made by them stand a chance of being adopted as industry standard.
posted by contraption at 11:11 AM on June 16, 2015

For me there are two reasons to stop buying something you would otherwise buy as a matter of ethics or politics:

1. People who you support ask you not to, to support their campaign/agenda/etc. This is what Juliet Banana mentions above. Often boycotts are targeted at specific companies because if that company is forced to raise its standards, other companies will follow (or be forced to follow using similar tactics).

2. I don't want this company/person to have my money. In these cases, it's not that there is an organized boycott or that I think my actions will change anyone's behavior. I just don't want to support this company with my buying power, and will spend my money somewhere else.
posted by cushie at 11:52 AM on June 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I sometimes boycott to apply pressure. For example, your post brought this particular issue to my attention, so now I'm boycotting them till the negotiations end.

I'm boycotting Eden Organic because I haven't heard that they are paying for birth control yet. I've kept this up for months.

I've boycotted Nestle since my teens. I hate what they did in the 70s.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:06 PM on June 16, 2015

I buy Driscoll strawberries sometimes. Don't forget to listen to what both sides are saying. Sakuma Farms has rebutted the accusations against it. As mentioned above, they seem like a relatively good employer and the arguments sound fairly credible to me.
posted by banishedimmortal at 5:44 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Note that because part of the effect of boycotts is achieved through public shaming and making the execs worried about bad perceptions, they're more effective if you write to the company explaining that you're boycotting, telling your friends about $ISSUE, post about it on Facebook, etc.
posted by Drexen at 7:01 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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