Famous Boycotts in America

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The word boycott actually comes from a person. Charles Boycott evicted those who couldn’t pay rent on the land he owned. The result was that all of his workers downed tools, delivery people refused to work with him and he found himself outcast from his local community. ‘Boycott’ quickly became the word for a form of economic protest. With a country built on capitalism and economic freedom, Americans see the value of taking economic action against those who don’t play fairly or break the law.




Though international, it began in the USA and takes place every year on the day of Black Friday (in the USA and Canada, in Europe it takes place the day after). IBND stands for International Buy Nothing Day and is a reaction against the furious and sometimes rabid spending spree that takes place on the last payday before Christmas. Activists say that it encourages people to pause to reflect on what they are spending and the environmental and ethical consequences of what they are buying.


2. Continental Association


Before the Boston Tea Party, before the War of Independence was a movement by the colonies to petition the British government across the Atlantic to repeal laws that they said were economically damaging to the colonies. United, they agreed to a trade boycott of British goods coming into North America. A new law introduced in 1775 attempted to force the colonies into submission and that led to them breaking away. The movement to independence began with economic sanctions


3. The Monday Boycott


Rosa Parks has gone down in history as an unwitting contributor to the Civil Rights Movement in the USA but few people realize that a boycott of the bus company followed in the wake of her protest. Noting that blacks made up 75% of the company’s passengers, Jo Ann Robinson put out a memo suggesting blacks should boycott all buses the following Monday. Chaos ensued, the boycott lasted until December 1956 and a later Supreme Court ruling stated that segregation was unconstitutional


4. Anti-Nazi Boycotts 1933


Though this was global for those countries who would stand against Nazi Germany, it began in the USA with the American Jewish Congress who sought to raise awareness of what was going on under Hitler and encouraged all Americans to boycott German manufactured goods. A series of protest rallies were also organized. In retaliation, native German officials and supporters of the Nazis abroad counterclaimed that is was all part of the Jewish Agenda. Joseph Goebbels went one step further and announced a series of countermeasures against German Jews.


5. Stop Esso


Another boycott that started in the USA but went global, it is well-known that Esso and their parent company Exxon-Mobil are continuing to fund a massive campaign to deny the reality of climate change. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and several other environmental groups first brought this to our attention in 2004 and encouraged vehicle drivers to use petroleum companies with ethical environmental policies and a clear plan to invest in renewable sources. The boycott is ongoing in 2014 and Exxon-Mobil still fund political groups


6. 1980 Olympics


Another boycott that started in the USA but spread to a number of other western nations, the farcical incident that was the 1980 Olympics where few athletes turned up and many of those who did turn chose to compete under the Olympic flag. The protest was as a result of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and Jimmy Carter’s ultimatum that the country should withdraw from the Moscow Olympics. In 1984, the Soviet Union and some of their Communist allies enacted a similar boycott in protest (it took place in Los Angeles)


7. Nestlé Boycott

No Nestle

This may be the world’s longest ongoing boycott. Using underhand tactics as some big businesses tend to do, in 1977 Nestlé began an aggressive marketing campaign to sell breast milk substitutes to developing countries. Professor Derek Jelliffe and his wife Patrice began the campaign in the USA shortly afterwards to draw attention to the exploitation of parents in the developing world. International charities soon got involved and demonstrated that their marketing has been responsible for health problems and higher infant mortality of the young in developing countries


8. Freedom Fries


One of the most bizarre and perhaps ineffectual boycotts came in the wake of invasion of Iraq in 2003. America loves its French Fries, but France was refusing the support the war and restaurants all over the country began changing their menus to offer ‘Freedom Fries’. When asked about the issue, a French embassy spokeswoman stated they were ‘in a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name they [Americans] give to potatoes.” When relations cooled later and restaurants changed the name back, “our relations are definitely much more important than potatoes’ was the dry Gallic response


9. Wal-Mart


It seems that the supermarket giant has been the centre of so many boycotts in recent years. From its lax gun sales in the wake of Columbine to its poor treatment of staff, some say it has very little regard for state, federal and international law regarding the treatment of the people that work for it and those who supply it. It has been accused of breaking laws permitting staff to sign up to a union and is also accused of being one of the world’s biggest beneficiaries of the sweat shop system


10. Caterpillar


You’d think that a successful construction company would be one of the last businesses to suffer international boycott but a terribly misjudged decision by the executive management of the Caterpillar company led to just that. The decision to sell equipment to the Israeli military proved costly to them, especially as it is believed they would use the equipment to demolish Palestinian settlements in Israel. An international meeting to discuss the issue took place in Chicago in 2005



With the internet a truly global place for ideas, the exploits and underhand tactics of a business can travel around the world in mere moments. This means that they are under far more scrutiny than ever before and people all over the world can vote with their feet and encourage others to do the same in support.

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