Consumer Boycotts as Instruments for Structural Change

Journal of Applied Philosophy 36 (4):543-559 (2019)
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Consumer boycotts have become a frequent form of social protest in the digital age. The corporate malpractices motivating them are varied, including environmental pollution, lack of minimum labour standards, severe mistreatment of animals, lobbying and misinformation campaigns, collaboration or complicity with illegitimate political regimes, and systematic tax evasion and tax fraud. In this article, I argue that organised consumer boycotts should be regarded as a legitimate and purposeful instrument for structural change, provided they conform to a number of normative criteria. In order to show this, the practice and empirical context of consumer boycotts are first outlined. I then lay out and refute three general objections to this practice. Although each of these objections fails, their discussion generates insights concerning the normative standards with which boycotters must comply if they want their campaigns to be both legitimate and successful. These normative criteria are detailed along the lines of two guiding principles, proportionality and transparency. In the final step, I elaborate on structural change as the deeper purpose of consumer boycotts.
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