Consumer activism is a process by which activists seek to influence the way in which goods or services are produced or delivered. Kozinets and Handelman attempt to define the broad concept as any social movement that uses society's drive for consumption to the detriment of business interests. Consumer activism includes both activism on behalf of consumers for consumer protection and activism by consumers themselves. Consumerism is made up of the behaviors, institutions, and ideologies created from the interaction between humans and materials and services of which they consume. Consumer activism has several aims:
Historian Lawrence B. Glickman identifies the free produce movement of the late 1700s as the beginning of consumer activism in the United States. Like members of the British abolitionist movement, free produce activists were consumers themselves, and under the idea that consumers share in the responsibility for the consequences of their purchases, boycotted goods produced with slave labor in an attempt to end slavery. Other early consumer activism included the creation of consumer cooperatives in Northwestern England in 1844 as a measure against local monopolies and high commodity prices.
Activism on the behalf of the consumer began around the 20th Century in the United States, in what scholars Tim Lang and Yiannis Gabriel term the "value-for-consumer" wave, and which sociologist Hayagreeva Rao calls the antiadulteration movement. It was during this time that consumer organizations began to emerge in the United States, starting with a Consumers League in New York in 1891 which merged with other regional branches to form the National Consumers League in 1898. One of the first consumer protection laws in the United States and worldwide, the Pure Food and Drug Act, was passed in 1906. More legislation around the world followed. During this time consumer-led activism like boycotts continued, largely in response to domestic and international socio-political concerns.
The publication of Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader in 1965 gave rise to a new type of legal-focused, anti-corporate activism. Whereas past activism had focused on the consequences of consumer actions and the protection of consumers, Lang and Gabriel argue the activism inspired by Ralph Nader and others is more confrontational toward the market. From the 1990s and into the 21st century, consumer activism has been closely associated with sharp critiques of globalization and the damaging effects of concentrated corporate power.
Consumer activism seeks to change some aspect of the way in which goods or services are produced in order to make the production process safer, more ethical, more environmentally friendly, and to make the products themselves safer and of better quality, or more available to consumers. As a result, consumer activism challenges existing corporate practices in order to effect a direct change in production, or attempts to modify some aspect of the behavior of consumers themselves.
Scholars Robert V. Kozinets and Jay M. Handelman find that consumer activism needs three factors: "a goal, a self-representation, and an adversary." In this model, the goal is the change consumer activists wish to effect in the way goods or services are produced or in the way consumers themselves approach consumption. Consumer activists may frame the purchase of a good or service as a moral choice, with the consumer partly responsible for aspects of the production. In this way, consumer activists attempt to influence the behavior of consumers by getting them to consider their consumption choices in an ethical light, and portray consumer activism as a movement among consumers, themselves included, for a common good. Consumer activists may also be part of various consumer organizations or portray themselves as members of a larger consumer movement.
The targets of consumer activism are often corporations that support causes or practices consumer activists find unethical. Corporations are made the recipients of consumer activism based on an aspect of the way in which they do business or because of organizations they choose to support, financially or otherwise. Religious terms, such as David and Goliath, may be used in rhetoric to motivate non-activist consumers to join in the activism. Activists may target multiple corporations and describe them as their rival. Consumer activism may also target the state in order to implement some form of regulation for consumer protection.
Consumer activist tactics can include boycotts, petitioning the government, media activism, and organizing interest groups. Boycotts are especially prevalent among consumer activists within environmental and animal rights activist groups. According to research from Eastern Michigan University, boycotts that are media-orientated rather than marketplace-orientated are preferred. This means the nature of the boycott did not target actual consumption, by demonstrating in front of a storefront for example, but instead demonstrations are orientated to getting media attention by demonstrating in front of the rival headquarters. Consumer boycotts are effective at damaging a brand's reputation, however, and can result in short term dips in a company's stock prices. While these dips may be forgettable in terms of the company's overall revenue, especially when the company may be among the top global brands, these boycotts can quickly gain attention and cause fast mobilization due to the rapid pace of information spreading across the internet and even be successful in seeing through policy change or restructure in leadership if the boycott represents a major societal issue or movement instead of an isolated, independent effort. They are known to be successful when the issue the boycott is targeting is simple and easy to understand, with low cost of mobilization and many alternatives for consumers to turn toward. Boycotts are occasionally criticized for being ineffective but the media appeal and a few big successes from groups like PETA have sustained their popularity.
The Internet plays a major role in modern consumer activism, allowing widespread consumer interest groups to support each other in their efforts to resist globalized consumption patterns. This is especially true as anti-brand and anti-corporation groups seek to create a coordinated opposition as multinational and interregional as the opposed business. Often these communities provide a crucial central place to accumulate and share resources and information In these and other strategies, consumer activists seek to increase the exposure of their cause and to gain political support. The speed, convenience, and propensity for coalition building make the internet an ideal place for consumers to run their activism. Overall, the Internet allows for more mobilization by supporters, both inside and outside the group, to protest and get their message heard.
Activist boycotts function under the model that a consumer's money serves as a vote of support for the business from which they bought something, a model which adds a higher degree of social responsibility for the consumer as they must be knowledgeable in a company and it's competition's policies and stances in order to make the most informed decisions each time they make a purchase. It may be noted that this boycott tactic is not more commonly utilized by or slanted toward any specific political party in the United States as there are many boycott efforts that champion both conservative and liberal stances.
Described as the "granddaddy of all activist campaigns" Nike came under fire for utilizing subcontracted international factories to produce their products. Nike sweatshops became notorious for subpar working conditions and substandard pay. The reaction to this news resulted in an onslaught of activism that laid the foundation for modern consumer activism.
In 2001 and in 2002 various movements arose where consumers protested against Starbucks. Their demands were that Starbucks stop using GMOs and start making their coffee from fair trade certified beans. As a result, Starbucks started using Fair Trade coffee in over 2,300 outlets.
Greenpeace found that palm oil production used in Kit Kats was destroying the rainforests and habitats of orangutans. Through massive social media activity, Greenpeace forced Kit Kat to cut all ties with Sinar Mas Group, the company that was providing the palm oil. Kit Kat later pledged to use only rainforest-sustainable palm oil by 2015. This movement is hailed as a notable success in consumer activism.
After the ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States was imposed under the Donald Trump presidency in January 2017, protests arose in many airports of the country. In JFK airport, the car service company Uber was criticized for not canceling their service and allegedly using the event to gain profits during a Taxi Workers Alliance protest. This led to a twitter campaign of #deleteuber where over 200,000 users deleted the app. Later it was announced that the CEO of uber Travis Kalanick would leave his position as advisor in the economic advisory council of president Trump due to criticism over Trump and the travel ban, otherwise known as Executive Order 13769.
After releasing their new winter-themed set of Christmas cups in 2015, Donald Trump declared a suggestion to boycott Starbucks Coffee. Trump hinted at the fact that the Starbucks cup no longer resembled the Christmas season with typical Christmas characters like Christmas trees, gifts, santa, etc., and this is what he may be referencing during the boycott. Trump was an influence in this movement as a presidential candidate in 2015, and in this same speech he hinted that Starbucks was removing the Christmas out of the Christmas-holiday season. Starbucks has been the target of major backlash from conservatives Trump supporters in 2017 as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz spoke out in favor of employing refugees at various locations of the coffee shop chain after Trump proposed a travel ban targeted towards stopping Muslim Middle Eastern refugees from entering the United States.
The anti-Trump boycott was created by Susan Coulter in October 2016 in attempts to protest against Donald Trump. The movement includes boycotting all stores and companies that cary Trump affiliated items, such as Ivanka Trump's shoe line. The boycott didn't only include clothing stores, but also included TV shows, such as The New Celebrity Apprentice, which was formerly hosted by Donald Trump.
Donald Trump: Donald Trump played a large role in promoting various consumer boycotts and consumer activist situations, such as with the Starbucks Boycott, where Trump suggested a boycott due to the Christmas cup controversy, as well as calling for a boycott of the NFL due to kneeling protests of police brutality against people of color during the national anthem in 2017.
Lena Dunham: After the company Uber removed price surges following a taxi hour of solidarity for the immigration ban at the JFK airport, there was almost instantly a backlash from thousands of Uber users to delete the app, and Dunham engaged in the boycott by sending out a tweet indicating that she had deleted the app.
Kelly Ellis: Software engineer Kelly Ellis proposed a boycott of Twitter over a controversial suspension of actress Rose McGowan's Twitter account. The boycott included the hashtag "#WomenBoycottTwitter." Rose McGowan's account was suspended after Tweeting about an accused sexual harasser within the Hollywood celebrity community, and breaking Twitter rules over posting personal information.
George Takei: After the surge of 2017 Uber boycott's, Takei made a Tweet on Twitter addressing the events, comparing Uber to a different ride-sharing app, and including the hashtag "#DeleteUber" at the end of his Tweet.
Jesse Williams: After the 2017 Uber boycott at the John F Kennedy International Airport, Actor Jesse Williams took to Twitter sharing a screenshot of himself deleting the Uber app and including the hashtag "#DeleteUber" in his Tweet.
Some activists perceive the consumer public as unthinking, ignorant, and routine in their thoughts of consumption. Activist accounts describe these people as unreflective and unwilling to "consider" their habits and lifestyles. They may be believed to not insert moral or social ideas into their consumption. Other perceptions of customers are also expressed by activists, including the idea that consumers are submissive to corporations. The activists themselves may be described as dominating and oppressive to the consuming public.
Opponents of consumer activism often represent business interests. Some businesses have brought lawsuits against consumer groups for making negative comments about their products or services. Many of the suits have been successfully defended as exercises in free speech. Some cases against consumer activists have been dismissed under anti-SLAPP laws.
Notable consumer organizations include Grahak Shakti (India), Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America. These organizations protect consumer rights by testing products and helping consumers make informed choices. The Consumers Union participates in consumer activism with hundreds of thousands of "e-advocates" who write letters to policy makers. Early versions of consumer organizations were similar to trade unions in how they would boycott to try to improve the marketplace for the consumer.
The CEO of Basecamp, a Chicago-based tech company, chose to boycott Uber in 2017 by no longer reimbursing company and employee Uber rides, giving incentive to use other ridesharing apps. Jason Fried, the company’s CEO, stated that making the decision to boycott Uber was easy, especially after the Susan J. Fowler controversy in early 2017, and for Fried, it was a matter of morals.
Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society. Forms of activism range from mandate building in the community (including writing letters to newspapers), petitioning elected officials, running or contributing to a political campaign, preferential patronage (or boycott) of businesses, and demonstrative forms of activism like rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, or hunger strikes.
Activism may be performed on a day-to-day basis in a wide variety of ways, including through the creation of art (artivism), computer hacking (hacktivism), or simply in how one chooses to spend their money (economic activism). For example, the refusal to buy clothes or other merchandise from a company as a protest against the exploitation of workers by that company could be considered an expression of activism. However, the most highly visible and impactful activism often comes in the form of collective action, in which numerous individuals coordinate an act of protest together in order to make a bigger impact. Collective action that is purposeful, organized, and sustained over a period of time becomes known as a social movement.Historically, activists have used literature, including pamphlets, tracts, and books to disseminate their messages and attempt to persuade their readers of the justice of their cause. Research has now begun to explore how contemporary activist groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action combining politics with technology.The Online Etymology Dictionary records the English words "activism" and "activist" as in use in the political sense from the year 1920 or 1915 respectively.Anti-boycott
An anti-boycott, counter-boycott or buycott is the excess buying of a particular brand or product in an attempt to counter a boycott of the same brand or product. Anti-boycott measures could also be in the form of laws and regulations adopted by a state to prohibit the act of boycott among its citizens.Bank Transfer Day
Bank Transfer Day was a consumer activism initiative calling for a voluntary switch from commercial banks to not-for-profit credit unions by November 5, 2011. As of October 15, 2011, a Facebook page devoted to the effort had drawn more than 54,900 "likes". Debit card fees of $5 a month from the Bank of America are among steps leading to the Bank Transfer Day protest with a November 5 deadline. Occupy Wall Street participants support the effort even though the events are not related. Among the detractors was Occupy Los Angeles, and Kristen Christian, creator of the event, stated that "she was accosted by Occupy Los Angeles organizers and has even received threatening phone calls" because of her pro-credit union rather than anti-bank approach.Christian, an art gallery owner in Los Angeles, California, said she was dissatisfied with Bank of America's "ridiculous fees and poor customer service." She created an event on Facebook called “Bank Transfer Day” and invited her friends to close their accounts at big for-profit banks and move their money to credit unions by November 5, 2011. Christian chose November 5 because of its association with Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the British House of Lords and bring Catholic rule back to the United Kingdom, but was captured on that date in 1605. This has been a continuing observance.Boake Carter
Harold Thomas Henry Carter (28 September 1903 – 16 November 1944) was a British-American national news commentator in the 1930s and early 1940s.Boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntary and intentional abstention from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behavior.
Sometimes, a boycott can be a form of consumer activism, sometimes called moral purchasing. When a similar practice is legislated by a national government, it is known as a sanction.Carrotmob
Carrotmob is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California. It uses buycotts (a form of consumer activism where a community buys a lot of goods from one company in a small time period) to reward a business's commitment to making socially responsible changes to the business. Carrotmob also refers to a global movement of community organizers who use the Carrotmob tactic of consumer activism as a way to help change businesses in their communities. In a Carrotmob buycott, businesses compete to be the most socially responsible business, and then a network of consumers spends money to support the winner.Consumer
A consumer is a person or organization that uses economic services or commodities.Consumer Movement
The Consumer Movement is an effort to promote consumer protection through an organized social movement which is in many places led by consumer organizations. It advocates for the rights of consumers, especially when those rights are infringed by the actions of corporations, governments, and other organizations which provide products and services to consumers.Consumer protection
In regulatory jurisdictions that provide for it (comprising most or all developed countries with free market economies), consumer protection is a group of laws and organizations designed to ensure the rights of consumers as well as fair trade, competition and accurate information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent the businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors. They may also provide additional protection for those most vulnerable in society. Consumer protection laws are a form of government regulation that aim to protect the rights of consumers. For example, a government may require businesses to disclose detailed information about products—particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue, such as food.
Consumer protection is linked to the idea of consumer rights and to the formation of consumer organizations, which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace and get help with consumer complaints. Other organizations that promote consumer protection include government organizations and self-regulating business organizations such as consumer protection agencies and organizations, ombudsmen, the Federal Trade Commission in America and Better Business Bureaus in America and Canada, etc.
A consumer is defined as someone who acquires goods or services for direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production and manufacturing.Consumer interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the markets which directly and indirectly serve consumers, consistent with economic efficiency, but this topic is treated in competition law. Consumer protection can also be asserted via non-government organizations and individuals as consumer activism.DTest
dTest is a Czech monthly magazine established in 1992. The magazine is the official organ of the Czech Association of Consumers. It focuses on testing products and services and also provides help with consumer and seller rights, informs about new laws, warns against sharp practices of sellers and against suspicious commercials, advertisements, etc. There are also clues and tips for making complains. The products are bought directly in retail shops to make sure it is disinterested. The tests are then performed in independent laboratories in the Czech Republic as well as abroad.
dTest does not contain any advertisements and is fully financed by the income from sales and public sources. The selection of the tested products is not based on their manufacturers and is made on the basis of market analyses and consumer wishes.
dTest is a member of the BEUC since 2010. Until 2008 the magazine had only one staff, Ida Rozova who is the founder and chair of the Czech Association of Consumers. It had nearly 25 staff and the number of its subscribers was 54,000 as of 2012.Double-duty dollar
The term double duty dollar was used in the United States from the early 1900s through the early 1960s, to express the notion that dollars spent with businesses that hired African Americans "simultaneously purchased a commodity and advanced the race". Where that concept applied, it was believed that retailers who excluded African Americans as employees should be shunned.
The slogan was popularized by journalist Gordon B. Hancock. Numerous ministers and activists such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey urged their communities to redirect their dollars from retailers and services who refused to hire African Americans to those who did hire them.Though the Swadeshi movement had much broader goals, in the 1920s Mohandas Gandhi of India urged his countrymen to avoid funding their own subjugation by buying items from the British which they could produce and trade independently, such as cloth and clothing. In the 1940s and 1950s, Leon Sullivan applied the broader phrase "'selective patronage" to denote consumers' choice of retailers as a tool a) to influence businesses toward having more fair and just interactions with African Americans, and b) to build demand for African-American businesses.While African-American efforts continue, the strategy has also been applied by others for different, but similar reasons. Among their goals are
to create economic incentives for gay-friendly suppliers;
to decrease food miles;
to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and make it more sustainable;
to make local economies deeper, etc. The double duty dollar concept is part of a broad spectrum of consumer activism or ethical consumerism strategies.Economic activism
Economic activism involves using economic power for change. Both conservative and liberal groups use economic activism to boycott or "greedily" outbid companies and organizations that do not agree with their particular political, religious, or social values. Conversely, it also means purchasing from those companies and organizations that do. The idea behind the concept is two-fold. First, you will reinforce "good" behavior and allow those companies that think like you to succeed. Second, you will punish "bad" behavior and hope that those companies that do not think like you do will fail or will adopt your "correct" way of thinking.Ethical consumerism
Ethical consumerism (alternatively called ethical consumption, ethical purchasing, moral purchasing, ethical sourcing, ethical shopping or green consumerism) is a type of consumer activism that is based on the concept of dollar voting. It is practiced through 'positive buying' in that ethical products are favoured, or 'moral boycott', that is negative purchasing and company-based purchasing.The term "ethical consumer", now used generically, was first popularised by the UK magazine Ethical Consumer, first published in 1989. Ethical Consumer magazine's key innovation was to produce 'ratings tables', inspired by the criteria-based approach of the then emerging ethical investment movement. Ethical Consumer's ratings tables awarded companies negative marks (and from 2005 overall scores) across a range of ethical and environmental categories such as 'animal rights', 'human rights' and 'pollution and toxics', empowering consumers to make ethically informed consumption choices and providing campaigners with reliable information on corporate behaviour. Such criteria-based ethical and environmental ratings have subsequently become commonplace both in providing consumer information and in business-to-business corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings such as those provided by Innovest, Calvert Foundation, Domini, IRRC, TIAA–CREF and KLD Analytics. Today, Bloomberg and Reuters provide "environmental, social and governance" ratings direct to the financial data screens of hundreds of thousands of stock market traders. The not-for-profit Ethical Consumer Research Association continues to publish Ethical Consumer and its associated website, which provides free access to ethical ratings tables.
The term political consumerism first used in a study titled “The Gender Gap Reversed: Political Consumerism as a Women-Friendly Form of Civic and Political Engagement” from authors Dietlind Stolle and Michele Micheletti is identical to idea of ethical consumerism; however in this study, the authors found that political consumerism is a form of social participation that often goes overlooked at the time of writing and needs to be accounted for in future studies of social participation.Evil corporation
An evil corporation is a trope in popular culture that portrays a corporation as ignoring social responsibility in order to make money for its shareholders. According to Angela Allan writing in The Atlantic, the notion is "deeply embedded in the landscape of contemporary culture—populating films, novels, videogames, and more." The science fiction genre served as the initial background to portray corporations in this dystopian light. Evil corporations can be seen to represent the danger of combining capitalism with larger hubris.In real life, too, corporations have been accused of being evil. To guard against such accusations, Google adopted the official motto "Don't be evil", now used as part of the closing lines of the company's code of conduct. The company has been accused of violating this principle on several occasions, including with their now discontinued participation in a military drone AI program.The New Yorker wrote that "many food activists consider Monsanto (now Bayer) to be the definitively evil corporation". The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility wrote, "For many consumers, Wal-Mart serves as the evil corporation prototype, but record numbers shop at the stores for low prices." In Japan, a committee of journalists and rights activists issues an annual "corporate raspberry award" known as Most Evil Corporation of the Year Award (also called the Black Company Award) to a company "with a culture of overwork, discrimination and harassment".Lawrence B. Glickman
Lawrence B. Glickman (born January 10, 1963) is an American history professor and author of two books and several articles on consumerism. He has taught at Cornell University since 2014, where he is Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor in American Studies. Previously he taught at the University of South Carolina. Glickman earned a Princeton University B.A. in history magna cum laude in 1985, a M.A. in 1989 and his Ph.D. in 1992 both from University of California, Berkeley. He has written two books, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society and Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America.Persia Campbell
Persia Crawford Campbell (1898–1974) was an Australian-born American economist who championed consumer rights worldwide.Public Interest Research Group
Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) are a federation of U.S. and Canadian non-profit organizations that employ grassroots organizing and direct advocacy with the goal of effecting liberal political change.Rupert Raj
Rupert Raj (born 1952) is a Canadian of Indian and Polish descent, trans activist and a transgender man. His work since his own gender transition in 1971 has been recognized by several awards, as well as his inclusion in the National Portrait Collection of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.Untied.com
Untied.com is a website critical of United Airlines that logs complaints from passengers. The name untied.com transposes two of the letters of the name "United" and also suggests disorder. Kevin Simpson of the Denver Post said in 2000 that "The Untied.com phenomenon mirrors the online trend in consumer activism that has caught on with the disgruntled flying public this summer travel season." In 1998 Laura Bly of the Los Angeles Times said that Untied.com was "One of the most visible efforts to chastise a travel company in cyberspace". In 1998 Jeremy Cooperstock, the website founder, said that Untied.com was "a Web site that offers frustrated former United Airlines passengers a chance to speak out."