Principled stand, or a pain in the neck?

17 March 2017 - 23:52
By Samantha Enslin-Payne

My boycott of a local store after a blazing row with the owner is now inconveniencing me somewhat, and I wondered recently whether I could get around it without sacrificing my principles.

I am not alone when it comes to convenience trumping pretty much everything.

Take Frankie's ginger beer. In 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled Woolworths had ripped off the branding of this small company. Woolworths said this was not the case, but after the ASA ruling it pulled its retro cold drink range from the shelves, reports at the time said.

This came up recently at a family lunch as we drank Frankie's, and shook our heads in dismay at this corporate malfeasance, while tucking into food that included ingredients bought at Woolworths.

Get my point?


Woolworths has had its fair share of sticky situations that have raised the ire of the twitterati, in many cases for good reason. But it doesn't seem to have hurt its bottom line.

The boycott in 2014 by the Palestine-solidarity campaign Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions over Israeli products such as figs resulted in disruption in its stores. BDS claims the boycott had a financial impact, and while the retailer did have to increase security in stores, its sales were not affected. The company's results back this up, with revenue and profit from the food division in the 2015 financial year rising.

Then there is Vodacom, which fought tooth and nail against claims that it owed Nkosana Makate compensation for his Please Call Me idea. The company lost in court but it still hasn't paid up. Meanwhile, its active subscriber numbers steadily increased as this high-profile David and Goliath battle played out over several years in court.

And of course there is Ford. Only time will tell if South Africans will remain sufficiently outraged over the delay in taking action over Kuga engine fires to stop buying Ford vehicles. I suspect not.

There have been a few successful consumer boycotts in South Africa or targeting South African products, and their effectiveness was due to the compelling political or economic issues that united many people.

In South Africa in 1957, a bus boycott by residents of Alexandra in Johannesburg over a hike in fares was sustained for three months, with buses travelling empty and thousands of commuters walking long distances each day, sharing rides in taxis or being ferried to work in a car-sharing system. The boycott ended when the fare was reduced via a coupon system.

Elsewhere in the world, anti-apartheid campaigns resulted in successful boycotts of South African products. Beginning in the 1950s and through the following decades, South African fruit was a particular target.


According to the website, between 1983 and 1986 British imports of South African textiles and clothing fell by 35%. In June 1986 an opinion poll found that 27% of people in Britain boycotted South African products.

The campaign also resulted in the disinvestment of 55 companies from South Africa between 1986 and 1988, with one of the first to leave being Barclays.

The term was coined in the 1880s during the Irish Land War when a Captain Charles Boycott worked as an agent for a landowner. A rent dispute involving tenant farmers led to the threat of evictions; the farmers refused to work and tradesmen would not sell to Boycott.

And so the word boycott came into use, but in South Africa consumers seem to have little that unites them sufficiently to stir effective action.

My boycott does not have compelling economic grounds. But in my little patch it's important to me so it stands. At least for now.

Enslin-Payne is deputy editor of Business Times