Boycotts in the struggle for human rights
Le Bastard, Alice
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Boycotts are a fascinating and multifaceted consumer phenomenon, long used by citizens to exert pressure on higher spheres of power in order to enact social change. Boycotts have been an old companion of human rights struggles and are today recognized as a legitimate and powerful form of collective action. By empowering consumers to have a voice in the marketplace, they have challenged our traditional conception of political participation and more broadly of politics as centered in the nation-state. This tool seems particularly relevant today that human rights issues are more than ever globalized and intertwined with the way we consume. Consumer activism has become a popular and widespread human rights promotion and defense tool used by citizens, activists, NGOs and consumer groups. First, this paper will analyze the origins of boycotts, as part of a wider social movement striving for human rights, labor rights and social justice through consumption. Then we will explore two main questions: What are the successes and the limits of boycotts as a human rights promotion tool? And what have been states and businesses’ responses to consumer activism?