Author: Robin Moore

What NEED does this meet?

In a globalised market we need a global tool for making our consumer power count, whether it is changing a corporation’s global policy or a small gripe about a local public service.

A resource that not only helps us find sources of info about and sign-up to boycotts big and small, but also regularly communicates to the target company the number of people boycotting and what the company needs to do to stop the boycott.

What is the APPROACH?

A neutral network building tool that:
a) lets people sign-up for or swap boycotts.
b) at critical numbers of signatories an email/fax is sent to the press office of the company/organisation concerned notifying them of the number of people signed up to boycott them who are waiting to receive a response from them.

So basically it is about creating change through strength in numbers and effective communication.

Here is a first stab at the process, comments gratefully received –

I’ve got a botcott I want to get support for, I enter into letsboycottit.com:
– Who they are
– Brief synopsis of Why I’m boycotting them – linking to another site if more info is required.
– How I’m boycotting
– what the company need to do to stop me boycotting them
– their email address (customer service dept., embassy or press office – easily researched) .
– my email address

My boycott would be listed by brand/company name and location and when I sign up to other boycotts it is cross-promoted amazon style to other signatories i.e. ‘people who boycotted this are also boycotting Nestle, Esso etc..’

Once 10 people are signed up the press office at the company get an email saying that 10 of us want to hear what they are going to do about the issue we want resolved. The process continues as per hearfromyourMP. If people on the list are satisfied by the response from the company (which is distributed to all boycotters via the site) they can take themselves off the boycott. The site could publish data on how quickly companies respond and resolve issues.

This would work for big and small boycotts and creates a dialogue between the boycotters and the boycotted, making it stand apart from other boycott lists.

What are the BENEFITS to people?

From global corporations to small companies, our life is probably shaped more by the commercial and services sectors than by the government of the day (whose party they may well be funding;-). We can encourage these organisations to change through group action, for instance I would:
* join a boycott of Asda (as they fund the Republicans).
* hassle our council about why there’s no green recycling bag scheme in our area.
* boycott HSBC because they gets staff you complain about to deal with your complaint.
* boycott films with Tom Cruise as part of Boycott Scientology (and for reasons of taste;-)

Without such a site the work involved in organising boycotts will remain prohibitive for most of us and we miss the opportunity for using this to change the small things that effect us everyday.

What is the COMPETITION?

There are numerous boycott lists, complaint sites for individuals and there is an overlap with pledgebank but I couldn’t find any generic tool targeted at bringing considerate consumers together and then communicating their issues to the company. Big boycotts can always create their own site but there is definitely a space for a site which helps create smaller ones.

Obviously if anyone can suggest a better name… letsnotbuyit.com, helpmyboycott etc.. I’m not even sure that boycott is the best word as you could use a tool like this to make a group complaint about, for instance, your GPs surgery opening hours and you obviously can’t boycott your Doctor.

What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

While the detail of how the system functions needs more thought, at the core is the merging of functionality from systems mysociety.org have already created – pledgebank, writetothem and hearfromyourmp. Would be good to harvest mail addresses for major companies, embassies, public services (e.g. partner with howtocomplain.com?) and need to be cross checking boycotts as entered to stop multiple entries for the same companies/boycotts.

The only difficulty I can foresee is that publishing the reasons for boycotts as input by third parties could lead to libel action against the site. We would need to get a legal opinion on this and whether to moderate or not.


  1. Michael McCarthy

    Looks like a good idea, but why stop at boycotts of brands, corporations and companies? What about facilitating boycotts of countries run by obnoxious regimes, and actions to expose and render ineffective and unprofitable all their works: tourism, propaganda masquerading as cultural events, state visits by bloodstained trashers of human rights, delegations to arms fairs, disinformation in sponsored supplements in newspapers, etc. etc.

  2. Indeed! I was using companies as shorthand for any organisation but hopefully like pledgebank people would find other uses for the system. As mentioned it would be good to offer a list of Embassies’ email addresses.

    Good examples BTW and they highlight that multiple issues could contribute to people’s decision to boycott a single entity.

    I’m in two minds whether it would be best to have general boycotts or to encourage each boycott to be really specific with a single reason (i.e why and what we a boycotting and how they need to change to stop the boycott).

    Being more specific might encourage small steps to a resolution, where general boycotts could create more of an impasse.

    However there would need to be scope for many separate boycotts of the same entity, given your examples Michael, and this would mean the system would have to do more complex cross-checking to stop multiple versions of exactly the same boycott appearing in the system.

  3. I’m all in favour of this idea.

    It has been suggested that elements of my idea could be combined with letsboycottit.com. http://www.mysociety.org/for-the-public/pledgebank/ In particular I feel that adding some sort of arbitration mechanism whereby companies can address the reasons they are being boycotted would be of benefit. This could be achieved by building a community around the site analagous to that of an internet forum. Those who achieve the status of community leaders would have the responsibilty of moderating the site, and working with the companies complained about to help a potential resolution of the issues.

    As well as addressing some legal issues mentioned, I think this would help encourage people to use the site to complain about the day to day issues that actually affect them (their bank, their internet provider etc), as well as the more morally laudable issues such as those we’re familiar with concerning Coca Cola, Nestle, Nike etc.

  4. Just to clarify, I’m suggesting elements of my idea be built in to this one, rather than the other way around. I think Robin’s proposal here is simple and elegant in its execution and would be very successful.

  5. I agree Chris – elements of the two propositions could build something more likely to actually end in resolution. I particularly like the idea that we should be actively helping the company – much less adversarial.

    There is a gap in my proposal in terms of supporting editorial content around negotiation and arbitration and – perhaps – a user community discussing and advising on this i.e. helping users approach companies in the first place, framing boycotts in a way that encourages the company to resolve them and helping companies create an effective response.

    I worry a little about including dynamic advice or a more open forum around issues that will often have the potential to defame. I wonder if we should initially keep the idea simple with user’s submissions in a controlled and easily moderated format. We can then branch out into a freer forum once we start getting ‘good news’ stories as boycotts are resolved. It much less likely that any one will sue once it is clear there is more PR benefit to be gained by get us onside. I may be being overly cautious though!