Do Boycotts Work? Here Are Some Successful Examples

A growing number of wealthy political donors and companies have voiced their opposition to a bill passed in Georgia on 25 March designed to reform the southern state's elections.

James Quincey, chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, released a statement on March 1 strongly criticizing the new legislation. Meanwhile, on Sunday, Major League Baseball decided to move its all-star game from Georgia over the restrictive new voting law.

Boycotts, a form of protest for social or political reasons that involve putting financial pressure on individuals, states or organizations, have had a history of contributing to progressive social change. There have been many examples of boycotts that have led to success.

In England in 1791, a boycott of sugar produced by slaves after Parliament refused to abolish slavery led to sugar sales slumping by between a third and a half. In response to the financial pressure, shops later began selling sugar made by "free men."

In the 1920s, Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company ran a weekly newspaper, called the Dearborn Independent, which published anti-Semitic articles. In response, the Anti-Defamation League sued the car tycoon for libel and helped to organize a boycott of his cars involving both Jews and many liberal Christians. After a dramatic hit on sales revenue and after Fox Film Corporation threatened to show footage of wrecked Ford vehicles before showing films in its cinemas across the country, Ford finally apologized and shut down the newspaper in 1927.

In 1955, Black woman Rosa Parks refused to give in to oppressive laws in the southern states and give up her seat on at the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, for a white man. Despite around 75 percent of the public bus riders being African Americans, these segregationist laws meant that white people got their own separate seating sections on public transport. Parks was arrested for civil disobedience.

Black leaders then called for a boycott of all the city buses, an action that went on for 381 days and nearly bankrupted the bus company. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that segregation on any form of transport was illegal and Parks was released from jail. The city of Montgomery later passed a law prohibiting racial segregation on buses. It marked America's Civil Rights Movement's first successful boycott.

Boycotts were instrumental in ending racist laws overseas too. The Apartheid regime in South Africa finally fell in 1994 after wide-ranging boycotts from different countries and companies, with many divesting from the African state.

Boycotts have withstood the test of time. More recently in July 2018, Ivanka Trump closed her fashion brand after boycotts from consumers following her father Donald Trump's election in November 2016. The Wall Street Journal reported sales of her brand at Amazon, Bloomingdales and Macy's fell almost 45 percent in the year to June.

The following year, the Dorchester Collection, a hotel chain owned by the Sultan of Brunei, was boycotted over the country's decision to roll out draconian laws making anal sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney called for a boycott of the hotel chain, which includes The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London, and several corporations include JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank joined. The country later announced it would not impose capital punishment for those convicted of having anal sex.

Now, a number of companies are boycotting Georgia after Senate Bill 202 was passed along party lines by Georgia's General Assembly, with votes of 100-75 in the House and 34-20 in the Senate. The bill, which critics say suppresses voting rights, was signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on 25 March.

It limits absentee ballots and early voting, restricts ballot drop boxes and imposes tough new voter ID requirements. It also allows the state, currently controlled by Republicans, to take over county election boards it deems problematic.

Some activists and lawmakers have criticized the bill because they say it will suppress votes, including those of ethnic minorities.

Democrats, activists and several business leaders have condemned the Georgia election reforms, saying that the changes significantly restrict access to voting. Republicans say the reforms are needed to prevent election fraud. The move to change Georgia's election laws came after the traditionally conservative state flipped blue for President Joe Biden in the November election and again for Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in January runoffs.

Rosa Parks State of the Union
Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks stands as she is honored during President Bill Clinton's State of the Union Speech before a joint session of Congress, Washington D.C., January 19, 1999. Parks showed in 1955 that boycotts can produce meaningful social change. David Hume Kennerly/Getty