More on why to avoid retailers who support public sector cuts


1:10 pm - October 31st 2010

by Kate Belgrave    


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I posted last Sunday about my plans to stop shopping with retailers whose senior managers publicly champion George Osborne’s ideologically-driven spending cuts.

I thought that post would go the way of most women-and-shopping stories (and indeed of women-and-anything stories), but things went a lot better than usual. Thousands of people turned up to read and rightwingers went into tailspin – two very good reasons to push on in my view.

So. These are the three companies we’re boycotting in November – ASDA, Boots and Mothercare. Here are boycotters on facebook. And here’s a very good site that discusses the corporate behaviour of the companies that signed that Telegraph letter.

The chance to hit pro-cuts businesses where they’ll feel it seems to have struck a chord. Consumers want to redefine their notions of ethical business. Ethical business cannot, by definition, avoid tax, or cheerlead a widely-criticised cuts programme that threatens jobs, economic recovery and retail and local commerce. Vodafone protests, enthusiasm for boycotts, big anticuts protests – you’re seeing a revitalised scene.

Consumer boycotts can be effective, especially in an online age where reputation control vexes corporates.

Ethical consumer groups point to – with considerable justification – a proud history of successful buyer pressure.  Centuries-old anti-slavery sugar boycotts, the anti-fur trade campaigns of recent decades, consumer boycotts of battery-farmed animals and eggs – ultimately, all had profound effects on public perception and corporate reputation.

A sulky corporate response goes down like a cup of the cold proverbial in the viral era. Coke, for example, will never shake its sniffy ‘we want people to drink our soda, not play with it,’ response to legendary videos of guys blowing up diet coke by dropping mentos in it. BP will always be a dopey-looking Tony Hayward, corporate recklessness and rotting fish and bird cadavers. Trafigura’s appalling efforts to shut down news of its poisoning of innocent people still echoes as corporate history’s loudest online backfire.

There’s also reason to hope that a boycott will hit the bottom line. Companies forever deny that consumer action has much effect, but they need to put in some hard thinking. Polls suggest the majority of people don’t support Osborne’s cuts, or think cuts proposals are too aggressive, or unfair, or too much too fast. Government rhetoric is one thing. Voter response to it is another. Clever business in this era will be about looking closely at polls and making smart calls about public mood.

As for our demands: as consumers, we want retailers who support the cuts to explain how Osborne’s proposed quick-fire annihilation of public sector jobs will generate local growth. How will that work for real?
Take Lewisham, my own borough. The council and the NHS employ thousands of local  people here. How can those people shop at the rate they currently do if they’re thrown out of work? Lewisham already has one of London’s highest rates of unemployment. Exactly how will local retailers boom if more and more of their shoppers are in the dole queue? Who would want to set up shop in that kind of environment? Are big retailers seriously arguing that Osborne’s setting the scene for expansion?
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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments


Good luck boycotting ARM if you use a mobile phone!

The complexity of business interests makes these boycotts pretty difficult. The list on the websites you link to are long and complicated. Has there really been much of a response nationally? Unless there is some way of simplifying the list I can’t see a huge popular response. I looked at it and felt dismayed as to how I would proceed and in the past I’ve been an enthusiastic boycotter.

What these appears to boil down to is boycotting businesses that are right-wing or back the Tories.

Good luck with that.

For God’s sake.

Boycott who you like, but can you stop this smug facade about only shopping with “ethical businesses”? There’s nothing unethical about supporting balanced budgets, as you well know.

I am now off to the local ASDA, thank you for highlighting where I ought to start shopping more.

I suppose the thing about these 35 is that they spoke out just before the spending review. There must be a lengthy list of others who support the tories financially and politically. Is the boycott intended to punish the 35 for their efforts to influence policy publicly? Perhaps it’s worth broadening the net?

@2

http://boycott35.com has a suggestion for simplifying the process by choosing three of these companies to boycott per month.

Kate highlights damage to corporate reputation, a relatively unsophisticated process and achieved very successfully with BP. Judging by the responses to @boycott35 and @UKuncut on twitter people *are* feeling strongly about this. Look what is happening with Vodafone

To make it even simpler, boycott35.com is attempting to crowdsource alternatives and publish them. Yes it is complex, so we need to get smarter in our responses.

The customer is *always* right. Right?

I’m boycotting Next and Microsoft as well because they support the cuts BTW.

As I said last time around (and to remind you, I’m one of those rightwingers who didn’t go into a tailspin). Good Luck to you and all who sail in her.

It’s your money, you spend it absolutely any damn way you wish. If enough people agree with you then behaviour will indeed change.

After all, Woolies went bust because enough people decided they didn’t want to shop there any more.

Can I boycott useless public sector non-jobs? Or do I have to go on paying for them whether I want to or not?

Afternoon all,

Re: being smug about ethical business – well, I think the feeling is a little more strident than smugness. What I’m trying to say here is that the customer is entitled to comment on the opinions and business practices of retailers that she shops with. She is also entitled to take issue with them if she chooses.

I’ve spent a lot of money with Asda and Boots in the past and have put the odd coin over the counter at Mothercare. I am a customer who earns money to spend with the retailers of my choice and my opinions ought to count. I feel that these retailers have been less than straight with their customer base – a base I belong to. I find it surprising that people feel it is ‘smug’ to demand responses from the retailers who want their business. These retailers made a very public statement in the Telegraph about the benefits of cuts in the recovery, while stating the opposite in other interviews and/or laying people off. Misleading your customer base is not ethical. I don’t care to be misled by people who want my business.

I personally am quite a keen shopper – I enjoy a new frock as much as the next girl and have certainly been seen in a few chainstores in my time. But I’m pretty sure of this – my shopping options will be reduced if Osborne throws as many people out of work as quickly as he proposes to. If local retailers (and some of them are chainstores and local branches of big names, etc, in my area) lose their customer base because a big percentage of their customer base is no longer employed – that can’t be good for retail. Put it another way – how can that be good for retail?

Hiya Tim,

Yep – think you’re just about right. We’re all entitled to spend our money where we like and make a noise about traders whose behaviour we want to question. I’m questioning the logic of throwing large numbers of people out of work in areas where there are no other employment options – and of arguing that that will add to the local environment.

We’re always hearing that the consumer is king when it comes to retail. So why are the Right Wingers complaining about the use of consumer power to remind a few rich blokes that they do not rule the world? The more they squeal the more I know this is the right thing to do.

They want 500,000 people sacked and yet expect these people and their families to continue shopping with them. They can get lost as far I’m concerned.

Richard – What these appears to boil down to is boycotting businesses that are right-wing or back the Tories.

Good luck with that.

I’ve been doing that for years. Any business that can give money to the tories should be reducing its prices for its customers, so I assume its run as a tory fund raising venture and I stop shopping there.

I dare say I’ve shopped at tory businesses by mistake, but never knowingly.

I don’t see why corporates would want to get dragged into political rows. Regardless of what they actually thought about the government plans the best policy is to keep quiet and not be overtly politicised. The majority of the electorate would never vote Tory, and a majority of the electorate would never vote Labour. Therefore, any corporate with a consumer spending focus should not want to be politicised. Consumer spending corporates do care about their public image so if campaigns have merit they can be effective in damaging an image. See firms who will not advertise with Fox News when their blowhards are on.

The problem you have is you can’t campaign against anything that company X is doing because it is the government that are doing it. Somebody signed a letter and that does not resonate like selling products made by child labourers and beagles smoking a B&H.

There is at least one ex-Minister from the last government that I can think of who is closely involved with two of the companies. Patricia Hewitt is a “special consultant” to Boots and a non-executive director of BT. There might be more for all I know. Maybe your campaigning should start closer to home.

After all, Woolies went bust because enough people decided they didn’t want to shop there any more.

Really? Nothing to do with their business practices then?

“Judging by the responses to @boycott35 and @UKuncut on twitter people *are* feeling strongly about this. Look what is happening with Vodafone”

Twitter is no more representative of “people” than the comments on Guido Fawkes’ blog.

Woolworths? Didn,t Gerald Corbett used to head it?
“Corbett was one of 35 corporate bosses who signed a letter last week welcoming the coalition’s £81bn of savings cuts. That missive predicted that the private sector would find work for the 490,000 people set to lose government jobs. Many of Corbett’s staff at SSL International feel that his involvement was a tad insensitive, given that he is presiding over a sale of the condoms-to-footwear healthcare firm to Reckitt Benckiser that will involve large-scale job cuts”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/oct/31/comment-corbett-durex-sale-reckitt

17
You’re right, Corbett was head of Woolworths. He was also in charge of that other British success story – Railtrack.

With that track record, perhaps he ought to be Chancellor!

Talking of boycotts , I despise the Observer, haven’t bought the right wing piece of sh*t for years.
Shame the f*ckin rag hasn’t gone pear shaped.
I would love to see all the newspapers go down the pan.
Just to see the faces of the journos, like Burchill, Cohen, Bright and all the other journo scum in this country who are gloating at the site of LSA’s losing their jobs when they get their P45.

“Twitter is no more representative of “people” than the comments on Guido Fawkes’ blog.”

Or the comments on libcon too. Seriously…

Not the worst ideal in the world, but a slight problem is that it’s often impossible to avoid buying things associated (in some way or other) with these companies. This would get even worse if it were extended into a general boycott of all companies who back the Tories financially; pretty much all big players in the food industry are Tory donors, for example.

Can I suggest you all go on hunger strike over the cuts. You have got to make us right-wingers take notice of you.

If I and a large number of people boycott a company, what happens if the boycott succeeds?

1. Workers’ jobs are threatened. They will be the first to lose employment. One of the first rules of a boycott is to discuss it with workers in the company.

2. Managers will be unaffected. If you want to challenge managers, you need a very different campaign.

@Charlieman

“Workers’ jobs are threatened. They will be the first to lose employment. One of the first rules of a boycott is to discuss it with workers in the company.”

Won’t the increased business for rival corporations mean that more workers will be hired by rival corporations?

I will go out of my way to buy products from these companies you’re boycotting, thus rendering your boycotts ineffective!

26. Luis Enrique

You are boycotting companies where one member of the board of directors wrote to support the cuts. You are not boycotting “companies that support the cuts”

“Polls suggest the majority of people don’t support Osborne’s cuts, or think cuts proposals are too aggressive, or unfair, or too much too fast.”

The polls also say that Labour were the cause of the current situation. 53% think that what the government is doing is good for the economy, and it is being done fairly even though they will be badly affected by the changes. 51% think that Labour would have made the economy worse if they had won the election.

http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/YG-Archives-Pol-Sun-budget-toplines-230610BUDGETREACTIONS_3.pdf

If you want to follow voters intentions then you should be clamouring for the DfID’s budget to be cut which 68% of voters agree with.

I suppose it’s just serendipity that I’ve just broken my wallet at Mothercare and Boots.

@27

That poll is under the YouGov banner, but sponsored by The Sun. Do you really think that a Murdoch organ would not stack the questions in favour of the policy?

@24 Richard” “Won’t the increased business for rival corporations mean that more workers will be hired by rival corporations?”

True, but change would not be instantaneous. There would be periods of unemployment when workers were made redundant and sought fresh jobs. Those workers would also lose any “seniority benefits” acquired at the original employer.

BluePillNation: “That poll is under the YouGov banner, but sponsored by The Sun. Do you really think that a Murdoch organ would not stack the questions in favour of the policy?”

Yes, given that YouGov is a reputable polling company. Political polls are a loss leader for them so they want the right result to show how good they are. The topics asked about may be from the commissioner, but the questions and methodology are fair. Quite attacking the messenger because you don’t like the answer (“The public give the wrong answers, get a new public”)

“You are boycotting companies where one member of the board of directors wrote to support the cuts. You are not boycotting “companies that support the cuts.”

Then Luis it will put pressure on the company to get rid of the individual who has used his position to support his political views.

Prague tory,
Are you suggesting personal harm to political opponents.
Nice one

SBML
As a right wing little creep surely you don’t believe in the tryrany of the majority.
95% of germans in the middle 1930’s thought Hitler was the right guy

Devon tory
Yes, given that YouGov is a reputable polling company. Political polls are a loss leader for them so they want the right result to show how good they are. The topics asked about may be from the commissioner, but the questions and methodology are fair. Quite attacking the messenger because you don’t like the answer (“The public give the wrong answers, get a new public”)

So lets get rid of parliamentry democracy and just poll 1000 people for the views of 70 million.
We are all sheep, well I suppose in Devon most of you are or at most of you seem to at least indulge in carnal pleasures with poor beasts


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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