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What happens when customers boycott products? – Part II

A FEW times in my life, I have wished the population for Zambia was three or four times more than it is now.  Instead of 13 million people, we would probably have been wealthier if we were 39 or 52 million. The market for anything that you sell would be bigger and businessmen and women would therefore have more customers.
Of course this would call for more investment in social services such as education, sanitation and health.  For the size of our country which has approximately 752,614 square kilometres of land, you could say we are underpopulated.
The disadvantage of being a small population was more apparent in the last three weeks when most people could not agree on a proposal to boycott South African shops following the xenophobic attacks in that country.
The argument by some was that the impact of the boycott would be insignificant because of the low number of consumers that patronise international supermarkets.  Another argument was that we could not afford to boycott South African products because nearly all our consumables are manufactured in South Africa.
If the boycott was done by Zambia alone, there probably would be a very insignificant effect unless the boycott would go on for a considerable period. The down side of this would also be a negative impact on Zambians employed by these organisations as well as reduced income by the government due to reduced taxation.
However, if the boycott was done in several countries at the same time, the impact would certainly be felt by South African businessmen and women.  The challenge in some countries would be that even businesses run by locals as franchises could also be affected.
Last week, I shared some information on some successful consumer boycotts and in today’s article I will share some more examples.
In 2013, Good Energy stopped using G4S as a supplier of meter reading services following pressure from consumers. G4S were under a boycott call due to their activities in the occupied territories in Palestine.
In 2012, Mini Babybel offered an apology and withdrew a number of products after disability campaigners called for a boycott of their cheese after the company ran a marketing campaign that used the phrase ‘Mentally ill holidays’. Following a short sustained campaign by activists around the country, fashion chain Flannels announced it would stop selling fur products.
In the same year, DaitoCrea, the Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories agent in Japan, announced that they would no longer be distributing Ahava products. The decision was the direct result of a concerted campaign by the Palestine Forum Japan starting in 2010 to educate DaitoCrea and Japanese consumers about Ahava’s practices.
Yet another consumer boycott in 2012 involved Johnson & Johnson that reformulated all of its baby products to remove a formaldehyde-releasing preservative. This move occurred in response to a report and boycott call from the US Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) over the company’s use of harmful chemicals in its baby shampoo.
In 2010, Fruit of the Loom crumbled in the face of pressure from the largest ever student boycott. In an incredible about-face the company re-opened a Honduran factory it had closed after workers had unionised. Furthermore, it also gave all 1,200 employees their jobs back, awarded them US$2.5 million in compensation and restored all union rights.
The campaign started in 2009 when United Students Against Sweatshops started a campaign that led to 96 US colleges severing their contracts with the company. Ten British universities followed suit. The campaign was estimated to have cost the company US$50 million.
Reyna Dominguez, who worked at the factory, told New Internationalist that “without this pressure, the company would never have come to the negotiating table. There has never been an agreement like this in Honduras or the world.”
It is my hope that consumers in Zambia will not come to a point where they are compelled to boycott South African services and products.  This is however, a wake-up call to Zambians to promote the local industry and begin to think of manufacturing on a broader basis. Buy Zambian.