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The Houston Area Survey
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Boycott



A boycott is an act of voluntary and intentional abstention from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behavior.

Sometimes, a boycott can be a form of consumer activism, sometimes called moral purchasing. When a similar practice is legislated by a national government, it is known as a sanction.

The word boycott entered the English language during the Irish "Land War" and derives from Captain Charles Boycott, the land agent of an absentee landlord, Lord Erne, who lived in Lough Mask House, near Ballinrobe in County Mayo, Ireland, who was subject to social ostracism organized by the Irish Land League in 1880. As harvests had been poor that year, Lord Erne offered his tenants a ten percent reduction in their rents. In September of that year, protesting tenants demanded a twenty five percent reduction, which Lord Erne refused. Boycott then attempted to evict eleven tenants from the land. Charles Stewart Parnell, in a speech in Ennis prior to the events in Lough Mask, proposed that when dealing with tenants who take farms where another tenant was evicted, rather than resorting to violence, everyone in the locality should shun them. While Parnell's speech did not refer to land agents or landlords, the tactic was first applied to Boycott when the alarm was raised about the evictions. Despite the short-term economic hardship to those undertaking this action, Boycott soon found himself isolated his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman refused to deliver mail.

Girlcott is a portmanteau of girl and boycott intended to focus on the rights or actions of women. The term was coined in 1968 by American track star Lacey O'Neal during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, in the context of protests by male African American athletes. Speaking for black women athletes, she advised that the group would not "girlcott" the Olympic Games, because female athletes were still focused on being recognized. It also appeared in Time magazine in 1970, and was later used by retired tennis player Billie Jean King in reference to Wimbledon, to emphasize her argument regarding equal pay for women players. The term "girlcott" was revived in 2005 by women in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania protesting what they said were sexist and degrading T-shirt slogans on Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise.

During the 1973 oil crisis, the Arab countries enacted a crude oil embargo against the West. Other examples include the US-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and the movement that advocated "disinvestment" in South Africa during the 1980s in opposition to that country's apartheid regime. The first Olympic boycott was in the 1956 Summer Olympics with several countries boycotting the games for different reasons. Iran also has an informal Olympic boycott against participating against Israel, and Iranian athletes typically bow out or claim injuries when pitted against Israelis (see Arash Miresmaeili).

Most organized consumer boycotts today are focused on long-term change of buying habits, and so fit into part of a larger political program, with many techniques that require a longer structural commitment, e.g. reform to commodity markets, or government commitment to moral purchasing, e.g. the longstanding boycott of South African businesses to protest apartheid already alluded to. These stretch the meaning of a "boycott."

Boycotts are now much easier to successfully initiate due to the Internet. Examples include the gay and lesbian boycott of advertisers of the "Dr. Laura" talk show, gun owners' similar boycott of advertisers of Rosie O'Donnell's talk show and (later) magazine, and gun owners' boycott of Smith & Wesson following that company's March 2000 settlement with the Clinton administration. They may be initiated very easily using either Web sites (the Dr. Laura boycott), newsgroups (the Rosie O'Donnell boycotts), or even mailing lists. Internet-initiated boycotts "snowball" very quickly compared to other forms of organization.

Another version of the boycott is targeted divestment, or disinvestment. Targeted divestment involves campaigning for withdrawal of investment, for example the Sudan Divestment campaign involves putting pressure on companies, often through shareholder activism, to withdraw investment that helps the Sudanese government perpetuate genocide in Darfur. Only if a company refuses to change its behavior in response to shareholder engagement does the targeted divestment model call for divestment from that company. Such targeted divestment implicitly excludes companies involved in agriculture, the production and distribution of consumer goods, or the provision of goods and services intended to relieve human suffering or to promote health, religious and spiritual activities, or education.

As a response to consumer boycotts of large-scale and multinational businesses, some companies have marketed brands that do not bear the company's name on the packaging or in advertising. Activists such as Ethical Consumer produce information that reveals which companies own which brands and products so consumers can practice boycotts or moral purchasing more effectively. Another organization, Buycott.com, provides an Internet-based smart-phone application that scans Universal Product Codes and displays corporate relationships to the user.

When students are dissatisfied with a political or academic issue, a common tactic for students' unions is to start a boycott of classes (called a student strike among faculty and students since it is meant to resemble strike action by organized labor) to put pressure on the governing body of the institution, such as a university, vocational college or a school, since such institutions cannot afford to have a cohort miss an entire year.

Philip Balsiger points out that political consumption (e.g., boycotts) tends to follow dual-purpose action repertoires, or scripts, which are used publicly to pressure boycott targets and to educate and recruit consumers. Balsiger finds one example in Switzerland, documenting activities of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a public NGO-backed campaign, that highlighted and disseminated information about local companies' ethical practices.






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