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7th March 2017

The fallacy behind boycotting businesses

Boycotting products or services for allegedly supporting Donald Trump does very little to help the cause, writes Marina Iskander

In a time and age of heightened commercialisation, business and politics have become inseparably mixed together. The simplest example of this is the fact that current US President Donald Trump is better known as a businessman than as a politician. In fact, when he imposed the travel ban, companies like Apple and Facebook were the first to file for court papers against the decision. In turn, for us consumers, it makes sense to speak up through using or boycotting certain businesses. So when faced with racist policies like the travel ban, we believe we are making a difference by deleting apps from our phones or by not buying coffee from certain chains. By compromising part of our comfortable daily routine for a bigger cause it feels as if we are making a real change. But at the end of the day, these practices are rarely beneficial.

For example, boycotting make-up brands that test on animals would make sense, as it shows discontent with an ethical dilemma and encourages cosmetic companies to refrain from the practice. Similarly, boycotting brands that the Trumps own or run would also make sense. However, U.S. Uncut recently suggested boycotting just because it sells “Trump brand shoes, clothing, and home furnishings.”

This makes no sense for two reasons. First of all, the means and the end are barely related: not using Amazon will probably not stop the platform from dealing with Trump. Secondly, even if it did, the action would be very far removed from the reasons so many people are against Trump. Someone somewhere has to provide a retail and logistical outlet for the Trump brand, and online shopping is not the reason for him being sexist and racist.

It is arguable that boycotting these businesses is a form of silent dissatisfaction with Trump’s policies — a theoretical, if impractical, way to stand up to Trump using the language of our time. But, the problem with this method is that it is based on a fallacies alike those mentioned above. For example, protesting racism by boycotting Uber.

This particular wave started when Uber emailed their US employees about Trump’s travel ban. In this email, they said that they would help staff by offering them support, including legal help and compensating them pro bono if they are not allowed to enter the country. The email also mentioned that the Chief Executive would be working with Trump “from within through persuasion and argument”.

Meanwhile, a company offering a similar service to Uber, Lyft, sent out a shorter email saying that they were “firmly against” the ban. Soon after, social media was flooded with tweets and posts about how we should no longer use Uber — all based on this misconception that Uber worked with Trump and supported his policies. However, simply reading the email shows that Uber had actually meant to do the exact opposite. Some people oppose the mere idea of Uber working with such a regime, even if they might be trying to change it from within. Publicly deeming a service as racist while they were instead trying to do their part is a rough sentence.

Similarly, up two five individuals have cancelled orders on Model 3s from Tesla after hearing that Tesla’s Chief Executive, Elon Musk, plans to work with Trump by being a member of two advisory groups. Before the elections, Musk had publicly stated that Trump was not the “right guy” for the position. Musk and his company are known for their environmental awareness, a topic Trump downright excludes from policy. However, Musk also has recently stated that “the more voices of reason the president hears, the better.” Here, Musk rightly stands for facilitating debate in democracy.

But the matter can be made even simpler: it does not make sense to stop using a service or a company because of the views of their Chief Executive, or any other member for that matter. We so excitedly jump on the bandwagon and deem people as racist Trump supporters while we know that other companies commit even bigger crimes. For example, it is widely known that stores like H&M and Primark keep their prices low by paying employees halfway across the world very little for their work. As someone who vehemently opposes Trump, I still believe that these practices are far more harmful than the fact that the Chief Executive of a certain company holds certain beliefs.

Boycotting companies is is a good way to make a point in some instances — but only if it’s done for the right reasons. Most importantly, it should not be because of some social media fad, unsupported by real facts. It also should not be based on a member of the corporation having opinions contrary to our own, as not using their product will not change that.

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