How to boycott the boycott ban

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So, Tony Abbott’s new government is going to move swiftly to ban secondary boycotts of products and services.

Boycotts are a way for green groups, and those concerned with human rights and other issues, to pressure companies into doing the right thing. Targeting a company’s customers means hitting them where it hurts – on the bottom line.

Where would we be without secondary boycotts? We’d still be eating tuna laced with dolphin, for a start.

Even rampant neoliberals like the IPA think a secondary boycott ban is a bad idea – it goes against free market ideology to deny consumers basic information about the products they purchase.

But in the event that the Competition and Consumer Act is changed to remove the current environmental and social protections for boycotts, what can environmental communicators do about it? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get personal. Try a Twitterstorm or a Facebook mob asking awkward questions of a company director or CEO. If you’re savvy about getting some media coverage, or if the target makes a gaff in responding, you might get enough media and generate enough negative PR to have a similar effect to a boycott.
  2. Get into stores. Ask your activists to go in, load up trolleysful of the product in question, walk up to the till….then loudly exclaim ‘Oh my god, this tuna has DOLPHINS in it!’ and leave them there. It’s not illegal, stores will hate the effort and expense of re-shelving the product, and will put their own pressure on the manufactures to lift their game.
  3. Sell the boycott. Charge supporters 5c for a download or information sheet about the product in question. If you’re selling something, the new laws could protect you from the company’s attempts to shut you down. The boycott has become your ‘product’!
  4. Talk about what you would boycott, if you could. Carefully worded media quotes along the lines of ‘If product boycotts were legal, we’d suggest consumers boycott this product’ or ‘If you’re worried about issue x, you shouldn’t buy this product’ might be just safe enough to satisfy the lawyers.
  5. Use satire. Satire offers a defence from defamation laws which might cover you. Print yourself some funny stickers, sneak into vendors and sticker the products in question (think tuna cans with ‘now with delicious added dolphin!’) The gimmick, used well, can generate media which applies pressure to the company. A funny, shareable Youtube video of the process wouldn’t go astray either.