With the recent Chick-Fil-A boycott (and subsequent appreciation day from the other side of the debate), the effectiveness of boycotts has come under question. When consumers are unhappy with a company’s practices, one of the best potential tools is to rally with other unhappy customers and start a boycott. It’s never a guarantee that the loss of business will hurt the company’s bottom line enough to make a difference, but history has proven that a well-organized boycott can lead to some serious changes. Check out these six boycotts that actually worked.
One of the most famous and culture-changing boycotts in American history was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Parks was arrested, and the boycott of buses by black citizens began on her court date and lasted 381 days. In the end, the Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate its buses, and the Civil Rights Movement began.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers wanted to get better wages and working conditions for the workers (mostly immigrants) in Florida’s tomato industry. After a lot of organization (including raising awareness through fiestas, hunger strikes, and long walks), the group started a boycott that lasted several years, taking business away from Taco Bell, a leader in the fast-food industry. In 2005, they found success when Taco Bell agreed to pay more per pound for its tomatoes and make an effort to improve the working conditions in the fields.
Many boycott battles are waged to push a political or social agenda, and the American Family Association is no stranger to this tactic, with some successful boycotts and some not-so-successful ones. In 2008, the organization spread the word to its 2.2 million members that McDonald’s had given money to and been put on the board of directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and called for a boycott. Just five months later, McDonald’s took their member off of the board and declared itself to be neutral on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Just like the tomato farmers mentioned previously, workers in the cucumber industry in North Carolina, particularly the foreign workers, were living off of terrible wages and in conditions some compared to modern-day slavery. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a trade union, officially started its boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Company in 1998 because it believed they could only get higher wages for these workers if Mt. Olive pressured the growers. After a decade of organizing and five years boycotting the company, the union was victorious and a collective bargaining agreement was signed by Mt. Olive and its growers.
Starting with a strike by Filipino American grape workers that was joined by a union led by Cesar Chavez, the unrest among the workers spread into a boycott that reached across the country as strikers traveled the U.S. telling their story and raising support. By 1970, five years after the beginning of the strike, the grape growers had made a deal with the unions for better benefits, pay, and protections, an outcome that affected more than 10,000 grape workers.
Mahatma Gandhi and this boycott of the British monopoly on salt in India actually served as the model for the Chavez-led grape boycott. Gandhi believed firmly in the power of peaceful protest and showed the world how well it could work. Because of the country’s heat and humidity and the need of many workers to replenish their systems after sweating profusely, people couldn’t simply go without salt. So a group of men, organized by Gandhi, marched to the village of Dandi in 1930 to produce salt from sea water and encourage others to do the same instead of buying it from the British. Though tens of thousands of people were arrested for illegally making salt, including Gandhi, the march and boycott was a turning point in India’s struggle for independence, a goal it eventually achieved in 1947.