Ethics, Morality And Economic Boycotts


A significant number of corporations lend support and legitimacy to abortion through their corporate philanthropic programs. The Corporate Funding Project (CFP) has used the economic boycott as a key part of its effort to convince more than 343 corporations to stop funding Planned Parenthood, the world’s leading abortion-promoting group. The organizers of this effort make repeated attempts to convince a verified corporation with letters and education; but when that fails, as is often the case, the economic boycott is utilized.

What Is An Economic Boycott?

The Albert Einstein Institution defines an economic boycott as, “The withdrawal or withholding of economic cooperation in the form of buying, selling, or handling of goods or services, often accompanied by efforts to induce others to do likewise. It may be practiced on local, regional, national, or international levels.”

An article in Freedom Daily quotes Gene Sharp who authored The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Sharp defines a boycott as “the refusal to continue or to undertake certain economic relationships, especially the buying, selling, or handling of goods and services.”

The economic boycott has often been associated with left wing politics. This may be a reason why conservatives and others overlook or dismiss boycotting as a strategy to achieve their goals. “Most people associate the word ‘boycott’ with ‘60s radicals,” reports IN Fashion. “But boycotting is a well-respected, effective and legal means of nonviolent protest, as well as a vehicle of change.” This fact is now more widely known and accepted than ever before in history.

Do Boycotts Really Work?

In another Freedom Daily article, Wendy McElroy says, “The application of boycott in its many forms has been refined and sophisticated through centuries of use. Like any other strategy, boycotting will not address every situation…But the greatest strategic failure is to dismiss it out of hand.”

“Economic boycotts have a long tradition,” reads an article in South Coast Today. “There were those who argued that the many economic boycotts of South Africa would never work — until apartheid was toppled and the boycotts were given much of the credit.”

Boycotting can bring about two of the most detrimental problems that any corporate executive would prefer to avoid: bad publicity and loss of revenue (in that order). Boycotts succeed in part by “putting a corporation on a defensive footing, generating potentially damaging publicity, and giving its competitors an unearned opportunity,” writes Dale D. Buss in “Ethics and Economics: Holding Corporate America Accountable.”

One poll showed that 78 percent of consumers avoided or refused to buy from certain companies because of negative perceptions. In an­other survey 48 percent said unethical or unlawful business practices played a role in those decisions, reports Buss in Christianity Today.

Marshall Glickman writes that, “A nationwide survey of business executives indicated that they consider boycotts more effective than class-action suits, lobbying and standalone letter writing campaigns. Companies hate the loss of sales and negative publicity these campaigns bring — an image problem that…can dog them for decades, even after they’ve reformed.”

Glickman said “the truth is, once you know about a boycott, it is pretty simple to follow. And the good news is that when boycotts are well organized, they can really work.”

A boycott will generally fail when it has unfocused leadership, employs inconsistent pressure, has insufficient organization and planning, makes unreasonable demands, or when those who support the cause behind the boycott will not participate. Corporate leaders expect consumers to be apathetic and they believe any boycott will be a short-term irritation at the very worst. Corporate leaders also may count on human weakness and they far too often are not disappointed. But when a boycott is done well, their initial hopes fade and they begin to pay attention to the boycott.

Activists need to think twice before calling for a boycott. “A boycott should not be utilized on a whim,” said Douglas R. Scott, Jr., who as president of Life Decisions International (LDI) has managed a boycott of Planned Parenthood’s corporate supporters for more than a 20 years. “It should also not be the tool of first resort. A boycott needs to be well-thought-out and corporate leaders must have been given ample information and opportunity to change the offensive practice” before an economic sanction commences.

Another key problem that can greatly hinder the success of a boycott is second-guessing by participants. Boycott leaders must be trusted to decide when the economic action should cease and what demands the offending corporation must meet before this can occur. If every individual decides what sufficient grounds to end the action are, the corporation may ignore boycott leaders. Unity is essential. If boycott leaders are ignored, corporations can effectively disregard the economic action itself. This is only possible if the corporation is able to undermine boycott leaders and divide the loyalty of those who should naturally support the effort.

When groups that have endorsed the boycott effort or whose charter supports the same cause “openly and knowingly begin doing business with targeted corporations, it can have a devastating effect on our efforts,” said Scott. “Not only does it make the boycott laughable to corporate and pro-abortion leaders, it is just one more example of Christians who are not willing to back their words with action.” Scott said the failure of groups also serves to discourage others who had been participating in the boycott.

It is clear that boycotts can be effective. If the strategy did not work, few groups would use it.

Why Should We Boycott?

Virtually everyone informally or even subconsciously boycotts one or more companies and products. You may avoid purchasing a product simply because you do not have a need for it. Only a few of us, for example, are in the market for four-inch round infrared glass filters. Or you may dislike the major purpose of a company and its products and therefore generally avoid them. For example, you don’t frequent pornography stores, hopefully, because you don’t use the products. Sometimes your choice may even be for relatively unimportant reasons. Have you ever chosen a particular restaurant over another because you like the décor or the atmosphere?

A formal boycott, on the other hand, should only be used for the most serious of issues. The amount of participants and the dedication with which they participate indicates how seriously they view the evil the boycott seeks to expose. For example, it might be difficult for many people to join a boycott of all corporations that have a “swoosh” in their logo. Although this might for some reason be a serious issue for the organizer, it’s hard to imagine that much of the rest of the world would look upon the effort as an issue worth sacrificing for or drawing attention to. In contrast, the CFP is one of several projects used by LDI that addresses the serious issue of abortion.

How important is corporate funding to Planned Parenthood? In her book Life on the Line, Faye Wattleton, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote about the importance of corporate money to the group she had led: “Corporate support was only about 5 percent of our budget, but it meant a great deal to us. The credibility that such endorsements bestowed was at least as valuable as the actual dollars given. It was important that we receive support from every sector of our society — from the kid who sent us a portion of an allowance, to major conglomerates.”

You choose when and where to shop and spend your financial resources. Formalizing the boycott with a specific purpose can increase the effectiveness of this tactic by leveraging a larger number of participants and channeling it for a specific goal such as eliminating corporate support of Planned Parenthood. This provides corporations with a concrete, specific behavior that they can change to avoid or reverse the effects of the boycott program.

Are Boycotts Morally Right?

It is acceptable and reasonable for persons to decide where and when to spend their money or to make it known why they do or do not utilize a particular company’s goods or services. Some might consider it mean or improper to withhold trade from a person or company. This can certainly be true. For example it is certainly improper to boycott a street vendor simply because his name begins with the letter “s”. That would be a frivolous and immoral use of a boycott. But the boycott strategy, in and of itself, is neither right nor wrong. It can, like many good things, be misapplied or done for the wrong reasons.

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. – Ephesians 5:11

While this scripture does not directly condone the boycott, it seems to at the very least give permission to boycott a product if it has something to do with “fruitless deeds of darkness.” (The boycott against Planned Parenthood’s corporate supporters has been an excellent tool for exposing the group’s evil deeds.) The point of a boycott is not to spitefully punish an entity for their evil deeds (that’s in God’s hands). Instead, its purpose is to refrain from participating in evil (primary or direct boycott) or to expose the evil deeds to those who support the evil deeds (secondary boycott).

William Wilberforce organized one of the most successful Christian boycotts in the late Eighteenth Century. He called for a boycott of sugar in an attempt to end the slave trade in the British colonies. Wilberforce and others knew that slavery was evil and they decided not to buy sugar that was slave-grown. Since that time, many churches, at some point in their histories, have joined in various boycott efforts.

In boycotting corporate supporters of Planned Parenthood, Christians are, like Wilberforce with the heinous institution of slavery, are attempting to eliminate the greatest human rights abuse of our day.

In Hear No Evil. See No Evil. Support No Evil: Christians & Boycotting, Mark Ritter offers a scenario:

Imagine this: There is a knock at your door. You answer it and find before you a small boy with a box full of candy. He looks up to you with a sad, street worn look in his eyes and explains that he is selling the candy so that he can go to camp this summer. You naturally feel sorry for the child and want to help him out. The candy is not that expensive and a little more in the house wouldn’t hurt. As you browse through the box, you casually ask him, “By the way, what group sponsors you?” The boy looks to you, then answers, “The Hitler Youth Program”…

You now have a small moral dilemma, but you come to a quick conclusion: Although you want what is best for the child, you realize that, by buying his candy and sending him to camp, you also support the sadistic philosophy and immoral agenda of the Hitler Youth Program…That is abominable; therefore, you cannot buy his candy.

As Ritter explains, “You’ve just exercised your right…not to support an evil cause. And, although your heart goes out to the boy, you would probably go to bed that night knowing that what you did was right.” Ritter goes on to say that the contemporary word for what you had just done is “boycott.”

What Is The Corporate Funding Project?

Managed by Life Decisions International, the Corporate Funding Project includes a boycott against corporations that fund the abortion-committing and abortion-promoting empire, Planned Parenthood.

On average, 13 corporations per year have stopped funding Planned Parenthood since the CFP began, which thus far has cost Planned Parenthood more than $42.5 million. Success has rested on prayer and five other key elements:

Reliability. Boycott leaders have expertly and carefully researched corporate involvement with Planned Parenthood. This has created a positive reputation so their research is trusted.

Cooperation. The leaders of several organizations (such as Pro-Life Action Ministries, American Life League, Human Life International, Campaign Life Coalition [Canada], Pro Vita Advisors, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Feminists for Life, and Life Advocacy Resource Project, among many others) have selflessly advocated participation in the boycott. This cooperation has been critical in spreading the word.

Coalition. Similar to cooperation, some organizations that do not usually play an active role on the abortion issue have endorsed and participated in the CFP. These sympathetic groups see the value of working in coalition.

Standards. Clearly defined, uniformly applied, morally defensible, and wise standards allow corporate leaders to know what philanthropic activity will make them a boycott target and what will release them from such action.

Dedication. The CFP has been an ongoing boycott that corporate leaders cannot just wait out. Dedication is required by participants and boycott leaders alike, regardless of how long it may take to achieve the goal.

Many boycotts are less effective because their leaders are not committed to these elements. This results in the perception that boycotts are simply temporary publicity and fundraising gimmicks for the group that is calling for the economic sanction. The frequent and short-lived boycotts called by Jesse Jackson are examples. But the foremost strategy of the CFP has always been to change corporate philanthropic policy, regardless of the time it takes or the costs involved.

Common Misconceptions

This section addresses some of the common misunderstandings, questions and concerns expressed about the boycott (by both prospective participants and targeted corporations.)

The boycott will make no difference.

LDI has documented over 343 corporations that have pledged to no longer support Planned Parenthood. To understand how corporations might see the results of a boycott, look at the economic effects on a larger scale. Suppose just 250,000 boycott participants vowed to spend their money elsewhere and they redirected a small figure of $15 per week. That would amount to $3.75 million per week or well over $150 million a year. That amount is enough to stand any business executive’s hair on end and perhaps change the direction of some of their donations.

Boycotts merely punish the people who work for the targeted corporations.

LDI does not suggest that people cease working for boycott targets unless their job directly influences corporate profits (cashier at a supermarket versus insurance salesman). Those who remain employed by a boycott target are encouraged to work from the inside to change the philanthropic policy. In many cases, corporations that stopped funding Planned Parenthood did so due to pressure from inside as well as outside the company

The goal is not to punish the employees but to change corporate funding behavior. If the friendly Christian door-to-door salesman wants you to buy a boycotted product, you have a couple of options and you’ll need to use your own judgment. You might respectfully explain your commitment to refrain from purchasing boycotted products. Or if you feel that it is warranted you might opt to make a smaller purchase than you would otherwise and indicate your intention to work towards continuing to reduce future purchases until the product is removed from The Boycott List.

It is unfair to boycott an entire corporation when only one of its subsidiaries is supporting a pro-abortion group.

Corporations may attempt to avoid the impact of a boycott by blaming the strongest subsidiary for the evil it does. The truth is that the corporate structure makes all subsidiaries part of the same entity. If any part of the corporation is funding Planned Parenthood, all of it must be boycotted. Corporate leaders at the very top cannot be allowed to plead ignorance or powerlessness over the grants made by their subsidiaries

The Boycott List is overwhelming. It is impossible to keep up and if everything were to be boycotted, we would go naked and hungry.

Boycotting companies on The Boycott List is not as overwhelming as it might first appear. Simply read over The List, mark those products/services that you have used in the past or may soon use, and keep these in mind when shopping. If you make an error and cannot return the product, simply try to remember that the item is on The Boycott List the next time you shop. Many have used the List successfully.

No one who has been a faithful participant in the boycott has gone naked, hungry or unsheltered. In most cases there are competing products that can be bought in place of those on the List. The CFP guidelines clearly indicate that one should not forgo purchase of a product for which there is serious need or no substitute. The Boycott List is not a call to extreme sacrifice. It is an opportunity to join with like-minded individuals and groups to encourage the elimination of corporate funding of Planned Parenthood. We are not asking you to be a poor steward of the resources God has given you.

A boycotted corporation does support pro-abortion groups, but it represents just a fraction of its annual donations. The corporation also funds pro-life groups.

Even one penny given by a corporation to a pro-abortion group is too much. Not only does it support the group’s anti-life activities, it serves as an endorsement of the group and ultimately its abortion practices.

Corporate executives often claim they also support Christian or other good causes. This is often true and they should be lauded for it. The corporation is being boycotted because of the evil that is being done, not the good. Despite the insinuation by the corporations, the good does not excuse or counterbalance the evil.

Boycott organizers should not put themselves in the position of judging a balance of good and evil for each corporation. It would be impractical and unbiblical. The corporations can more easily solve the dilemma by stopping the funding of pro-abortion groups and continuing to give to good causes.

A corporate executive claimed the money given to Planned Parenthood is designated for “educational” programs and cancer screening, not abortion.

Few corporate leaders would come right out and admit that they support the abortion industry. In any case, supporting Planned Parenthood in any way releases unrestricted funds for abortion-related activity. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood’s “educational” programs and its business activities that are unrelated to reproduction nevertheless facilitate its abortion business by expanding its customer base for abortion. (See also “What harm is really being done?” below.) It is important to remember that giving money to Planned Parenthood legitimizes it by saying the group is worth supporting. If the Ku Klux Klan were to start a reading program for children that was totally free of racism, would corporations fund it? Would anyone accept the corporate claim that the grant was restricted to the reading program only?

People are not responsible for the money after they buy the product. It is the corporation that is then morally responsible.

It is certainly true that those decision-makers who support the abortion industry are morally responsible. There is also no direct culpability by a customer in the actions of a business. However, those facts are irrelevant to the reasons for boycotting. Informed pro-lifers make a conscience choice to utilize this effective tactic in order to raise their issue to a level where it gets appropriate attention by the business. Please don’t participate out of guilt. Instead, be a wise steward of your God-given resources, using them effectively for His purposes.

LDI is suggesting people only shop at explicitly Christian establishments and that is impossible.

This is clearly untrue. LDI is not asking people to shop exclusively at “Christian” establishments; that would be ridiculous (and sometimes foolish as not all “Christian businesses” are conducted with integrity or unfortunately are not convinced that abortion is wrong.) Instead, we are providing very specific boycott targets for very specific reasons. Your participation is desired because of your Christian convictions, not on the merit of the boycott targets.

Douglas R. Scott, Jr. underscores the most basic benefits gained when people act on their convictions. “We can serve as a great public witness,” Scott said. “This is true from both a spiritual and educational perspective. What are people going to think of Christians who say they believe an issue is important but who are unwilling to stand tall when the opportunity is afforded them?”

Boycotting is a strong-arm, political tactic that is tantamount to extortion.

It might be that some understand “boycotting” as meaning more than we intend. You might be more comfortable with the term “economic non-cooperation” or “smart shopping.” You will shop, support, or buy from companies based on set, consistent guidelines and principles. That is your right as a consumer. This is neither political nor strong-arming.

The CFP is not extortion because neither you nor the organization calling for the boycott has anything to gain financially. On the other hand, pro-abortion groups sometimes threaten corporations with a boycott if they end funding. Such a boycott does constitute extortion (morally, if not legally) because they are demanding monetary gain.

It is too much trouble to write to the corporations.

If you are interested in boycotting it is important that you not merely change stores or fast food restaurant. In order for the boycott to be most effective, the people in charge must be aware that you have changed because you have chosen to participate in the Corporate Funding Project. It is imperative that the parent corporations receive a letter or telephone call from you. Graciously and very briefly, explain why you have exercised your right not to spend your money with them. It does not take a great expenditure of time and energy and your one call or letter may push them into reconsideration. It is even more important that you contact the company than it is to not buy the products! Nevertheless, the more who avoid purchasing the target companies products, the better.

What harm is really being done?

Besides the actual destruction of unborn children through abortion, the anti-Christian and immoral teachings by Planned Parenthood have a devastating impact on young men and women. (For example, one common educational tactic of Planned Parenthood is “desensitizing”. The goal of this tactic is to break down inhibitions to talking about sex so that “education” can occur more readily. In reality this tactic desensitizes the conscience and reduces the sanctity of the sexual relationship, while actually arousing interest in the topic.)

It is important for each person to remember that abortion is murder and is thus against God’s law. It is not necessary for us to fully understand all of the harms and reasons behinds God’s laws.

Boycott Participants Speak Out

Life Decisions International asked Christians why they are active in the boycott of corporations that fund Planned Parenthood:

I will be called upon to answer how I treated the least of my brothers!! The unborn are our weakest brothers. Money has power. I do not want to provide any more power to Planned Parenthood. I can’t prevent it from happening all the time, but sure want to as much as possible! – S. R.

Many good pro-life people are unknowingly participating in abortion by their daily purchases. Luckily, research provides an effective vehicle for countering the massive corporate funding of the abortion industry. - R. E.

Prayer and boycotting are very effective ways to make a point, change hearts, and show our non-support for organizations that support the killing of human beings. – F. S.

It’s Your Turn

In his book Bad Choices: A Look Inside Planned Parenthood, Douglas R. Scott writes: “The Pro-Life Movement will succeed only to the extent that pro-life people are willing to be inconvenienced.” Your willingness to be inconvenienced will move corporations.