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Economic Boycott as Nonviolence


PressInfo # 223

 July 13, 2005


Johan Galtung, TFF Associate & Transcend

 Denne PressInfo også på dansk og svensk

There is much talk of boycott of US products all over the world, and, particularly in Germany and France, people seem much less inclined to buy US products after the illegal invasion of Iraq. Interestingly, there is no talk about boycotting English or British products, but much talk about Israel. The backdrop is the successful action against the apartheid regime in South Africa, against Deutsche Shell in the North Sea, and against the French nuclear testing in Polynesia; all as parts of the political scene of the 1990s. There is space for revival!


Some of the many factors and dimensions to consider

A complete boycott would cover US consumer goods, from movies, Coca Cola-McDonald to cars and fuel, capital goods of all kinds particularly military hardware, finance goods like dollars, using Euros, Yen etc. to denominate prices, for contracts, for tourism, also avoiding US credit card companies, and divesting from US bonds and stocks, demanding that governments do not buy and that corporations divest from US firms, starting with the most reprehensible corporations.

A partial boycott would focus on any subset of the above.

The boycott could target all U.S. companies within all or some branches, or a subset, presumable the worst. The list should be published and the conditions for getting off the list should be clearly stated.

The boycott might or might not be accompanied by a girlcott, selective buying from US companies that come out positively on the criteria used (like no military contracts), or at least less badly. Girlcott of companies headquartered in other countries might also make the point, but probably less forcefully so.

The purpose could be to hit the U.S. Empire as such, with its coordinated killing all over the world; creation of enormous gaps between misery and obscene wealth; political manipulation and arms twisting instead of equal participation in world politics and the "only we know the answers" instead of dialogue.

Or the purpose could be more limited, like withdrawal from Iraq. In either case the conditions for canceling the boycott should be stated.


Translating the boycott into change of policies

The mechanism that might translate boycott into a change of policy would be the dilemma of corporate decision-makers like the trustees/executives between loyalty to Washington geofascism and their own profits, which might decrease rapidly under conditions of boycott.

The average profit of a US corporation is around 6 per cent, meaning that even modest participation will have major impact. Even a 3 per cent decline in sales will probably activate the dilemma, which means that an economic boycott is feasible, even relatively easy to organize. And everybody can participate!


Boycott as an expression of moral sentiments & consumer power

Added to this comes another and possibly much more important mechanism. Not the decline in sales, or even in macro-economic indicators; but boycott as an expression of a moral sentiment that would communicate: You are on the wrong path, my friend, and we will no longer give you the implicit moral support of buying your goods and services. When you get on a better path, this will all change. Let us sit down and talk!

In other words, the power lies with the consumers. The factors of production are all in the hands of those with capital; be that resources, labor, capital itself, technology or management. The factors flow according to supply and demand. Labor has little choice as technology can be used as a substitute. But there is no substitute for willing buyers!


Likely U.S. countermeasures

Very well knowing this the U.S. system will of course defend itself, and the likely counter-measures against boycott include:

- pressure on governments to outlaw boycott; problematic because market freedom is a major part of neoliberal ideology;

- corporations asking Washington for compensation; problematic given the deficits in the US economy and the federal budget;

- decreasing expenditure by laying off more workers; problematic because this option has already been used to increase profit and collective protests are now increasing very quickly;

- U.S. boycott of products from boycotting countries; problematic given U.S. consumer dependence on foreign products (such as China) and it might stimulate buying from US-boycotted countries.

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What is clear, however, is that governments cannot, given the overwhelming US military power, use their economic weapon, economic sanction. They may be bombed, and their addresses are relatively clear, as opposed to the diffuseness of "customers" who change from U.S./U.K. gas stations to others.


The nonviolent aspects and alternatives to the market

Economic boycott was very important in Gandhi's way of fighting the U.K. Empire; and any boycott should be informed by Gandhian nonviolence. The purpose is to reduce and eliminate the U.S. military, economic, political and cultural choking grip on the world, not to kill U.S. children by hitting the U.S. economy.

An emergency relief program for those who suffer in the U.S. under a worldwide economic boycott could be considered. The target is the U.S. Empire, not the U.S. Republic.

Another major purpose is to develop our own economic capacity and not submit to the "logic of the market", so blind to such major side-effects as local initiatives, local networks and culture, effects on the environment, etc.

For that reason it is important to keep communication and dialogue channels open provided those channels are used well. Visits to the USA should be encouraged, as well as conferences, to communicate how the U.S. Empire is hurting the world and how the United States herself would be the first to benefit from its fall.



You may also want to browse these articles, related to Galtung's argument:

TFF Fearur Collection
On the future of the U.S. Empire - and its end - including also Galtung's analyses of the empire

Lester Brown, The Earth Policy Institute
On the link between U.S. policies and declining sales abroad

Jan Oberg
Four more Bush years - What exciting opportunities!


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