Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Should conservatives boycott companies that support evil causes? Various boycott movements have emerged within the culture war over the years, and for good reasons. An effort to boycott Target due to several woke policies, including the corporation’s public decision to allow men who identify as women to use women’s restrooms, is underway. For over a decade, Christians have been debating whether boycotting Starbucks is warranted, given the company’s long-standing opposition to traditional marriage. And of course, there is Amazon. Michael Warren Davis wrote a great piece a few years ago on why conservatives should delete their Amazon Prime accounts. And he is quite right.

Clearly the answer to the initial question is “yes”; there are ample reasons for conservatives to boycott major companies that stand for and promote terrible cultural evils. But is there a point to singling out particularly woke companies, when almost every major company participates in evil causes? Is it worthwhile and proper to pick and choose?

I think this is a prudential judgment. I don’t think one can often make the case that a certain major corporation is so bad that conservatives are morally obligated to boycott it. Yes, Target and Starbucks openly support causes hostile to conservative values. But when practically every company—from AT&T to Verizon, American Express to Morgan Stanley, Nike to Ben & Jerry’s—contributes to Planned Parenthood, it is difficult to single out one major corporation as significantly more evil than the rest.

Nevertheless, perhaps we can single out a few that deserve boycotts. Yes, other major coffee chains may donate to bad causes and support woke policies, but Starbucks has been so openly hostile to conservatives that it is worth taking the CEO seriously when he says that he doesn’t want our business. So I buy my coffee elsewhere, though I do not think that it is a moral imperative for Christian conservatives to do the same. And I don’t think my decision does much to hurt Starbucks’s bottom line and make it rethink its position.

This leads to the ultimate question: Do boycotts work? The answer can be a powerful “yes,” but it depends on what the goal of the boycott is. If conservatives are trying to band together, start a boycott movement, and bankrupt or effect major policy changes in woke Fortune 500 companies, they ought not hold their breath. Unless a particular policy generates enough controversy to anger normal mainstream folks and not just conservative activists, there is almost no chance that a boycott will cause a major corporation to make a change.

Avoiding business with major woke corporations is still quite useful, but for other reasons. There is the simple principled point that it is good not to do business with people who hate us. And from that principle comes a crucial practical reality that can help rebuild a sane society: It is good to do business with people who do not hate us.

My wife and I deleted our Prime account last year, and we order from Amazon only when we have run out of other options. The increasingly frightening behemoth that is Amazon is bad for society. The company has run countless small businesses out of existence and is increasingly dominated by Chinese third-party sellers. But a conservative’s decision to take business elsewhere will not do much to stop Amazon’s march toward economic domination. 

Rather, the key benefit of boycotting big business is supporting local neighborhood economies. An average middle-class family may spend several thousand dollars per year on items purchased through Amazon and Target. Amazon will not feel the negative effects when that family cancels its Prime account and goes elsewhere; Target will likewise fail to notice that family’s absence. But it does make a difference when that family instead spends a couple hundred dollars per season at their neighbor’s farm stand, at the new local distillery owned by members of their church, at the wonderful family-owned cafe in town. When that family encourages their extended family, their friends, and those in their community to do the same, a local economy is created in which family farms, local distilleries, and cozy little cafes can survive, thrive, and become sustainable sources of income for their neighbors. 

We need to be clear-eyed that boycotting large corporations will not likely end their reign, unless there are major policy changes and legal challenges at a high level. But in the meantime, we can begin to create an alternate economy. We ought to patronize the farm stands, the family-owned cafes and restaurants, the small shops, every good local business we possibly can. In these places, we have the opportunity to know the owners, to speak to them, to be part of the same economy and the same place. We have the ability to keep our dollars within the local community, to support people we actually know, rather than handing them to multinational companies that do not share our values and do not care about our communities or our nation. 

This practice will generally cost more. It is admittedly not always feasible for people to purchase every product or service in this local way, especially for those of limited means. But for those who can afford it, this is an ideal worth striving for, even at great personal expense. Good things cost something. And rebuilding local economies is a crucial step toward restoring a sane and functional culture.

As conservatives, we know that we need to find local solutions whenever possible. Yes, it would benefit the common good to reform or eliminate woke corporations through boycotts, a fair market that encourages actual competition, and antitrust legal work. But in the meantime, giving more of one’s money to one’s neighbors and less to Jeff Bezos is a good place to start.

Frank DeVito writes from eastern Pennsylvania.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things.

Image by Natalie Maynor via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles