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Voting with your dollar: Otter’s guide to boycotts

By Tony Ryan. 

We owe the word “boycott” to Charles C Boycott, but Charles didn’t stage the first boycott in history, or popularise the practice – he copped the boycott that gave boycotting its name. An English landowner in Ireland, Boycott was economically shunned by his entire community in 1880 after he evicted tenants who couldn’t pay.

Boycotts can be personal affairs, as with my own (mostly) steadfast refusal to eat fast food (12 years running, if you don’t count one regrettable, alcohol-soaked lapse).

Charles may have been incensed that his name was borrowed that way, and, being an old-timey member of the landed class, he may have been the kind of bloke to be equally angered that boycotting caught on as a popular mode of activism – the most popular form, if you ask George Monbiot. Since Charles’s day, boycotts, mass refusals to patronise a company – or even a whole country – on the grounds of its behaviour, have been many and various: they’re prompted by concerns ranging from animal welfare and workers’ rights to environmental degradation. They can be well organised, as with the famous Delano Grape Strike of the ’60s, in which over 14 million Americans refused to eat grapes produced by the labour of underpaid workers in the States, or they can peter out with a whimper. They can span hemispheres and beyond, as has the decades-long fight over Nestlé’s sales of baby formula to developing countries, and they can be personal affairs, as with my own (mostly) steadfast refusal to eat fast food (12 years running, if you don’t count one regrettable, alcohol-soaked lapse).

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