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Let Your Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“We will not eat blood-stained bread.” A nationwide boycott against Samlip&Shany, Paris Croissant, Companies (SPC) began after the death of a young factory worker due to the company’s hazardous working environment. Following this tragedy, SPC and the Paris Baguette Union signed a labor-management agreement on November 3rd after a long conflict, but public opinion has yet to turn back in their favor. Regarding these recent events, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) discusses what it means to boycott, the concerns, and how to boycott for everyone’s betterment.

What It Means to Boycott

The Significance of Boycotts

Boycotting refers to a commercial withdrawal against a company or a country as a form of protest. The method and scale of the boycott depend on its intention. Organizing boycotts has become easier due to the development of modern technology. Through hashtags on social network services (SNS), people can now spread awareness and inform others of current events. This almost instantaneous sharing of information is vital, as boycotts rely on the individuals’ opinions coming together to form collective power. In recent years, citizens have started recognizing themselves as consumers who create the social market. This change in perspective made citizens aware of their ability to practice ethical consumption. Consumers can now hold large companies accountable through an unbiased evaluation of the company’s production methods. If the company does not meet societal standards, consumers can express their disapproval through actions such as boycotting. As such, boycotting can influence large-scale societal changes.

Past Successful Boycotts

“No Japan” Boycott Logo (“No Japan” Boycott Logo)

Boycotts have continuously been an effective method to create societal change. One of the most momentous examples from Korea is the “No Japan” political boycott of July 2019. This boycott began when the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would exclude Korea from Japan’s “whitelist” for two years. As a result, according to the Public Procurement Service, purchases from Japanese brands in Korea decreased by 79.3% compared to 2018, and the number of Korean tourists in Japan decreased by 62% as of December 2019. The widespread use of social media and online communities contributed significantly to this immense societal impact. Boycotts usually start due to a company’s misconduct, such as the most recent social boycott against SPC. In April, the head of the labor union representing Paris Baguette workers went on a hunger strike to demand better working conditions for the brand’s bakers. The boycott began when, after 50 days of being on strike, the company was still unresponsive about its labor exploitation. To make matters worse, on October 15th, a 23-year-old employee working in a SPC factory in Pyeongtaek City died in an accident in which her upper body was caught in a machine with no safety devices. It was also revealed that the factory resumed operations the day after the employee passed away. The social boycott against SPC spread quickly through social media, with continuous incidents relating to unethical labor practices causing public outrage.

Concerns Surrounding Boycotts

Their Impact on Franchise Stores

Although the company’s wrongdoings lead to boycotts, there are controversies about their negative impact on the franchisees, especially declines in sales due to boycotts. For example, because of the recent SPC boycott, the respective owners of SPC’s 28 affiliate stores have been met with significant decreases in their sales. An SPC franchise owner in Seoul told Financial News that the average daily sales have decreased by 30% since the boycott. Moreover, other brands unaffiliated with SPC suffered lower sales when it was revealed they were using SPC products. However, some argue that franchisees are also responsible for the parent company’s misconduct, as franchisees implicitly agree to the company’s unethical production methods. An anonymous freshman who is part of the Social Sciences Affiliated College at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) remarked, “Since the franchise stores are a part of the company, a boycott will inevitably impact the franchisees as well.” Likewise, as franchisees benefit when the company’s business is successful, they must also accept the decline in sales when the company fails. These negative impacts are often falsely viewed as a fault of boycotting itself rather than a natural result of the company’s misconduct.

Paris Baguette, a Brand under SPC (parisbaguette.com)

The Right to Inaction

There have been voices against boycotting, arguing that each person’s right to personal freedom should be respected. Forcing an individual to participate in boycotts can lead them to reject the idea of boycotting itself. However, as the use of SNS has become commonplace, it is easier to find people who do not participate in boycotts. As a result, publicly shaming those who voice their opinions of refusing to participate in the boycott has become a common incident. For example, on October 21st, a student from Seoul National University expressed their support for a brand under the SPC branch through an on-campus anonymous online community application, Everytime. This post was met with harsh comments and criticisms. On the other hand, posts in other communities supporting the boycott received hundreds of likes and supportive comments. As these kinds of forced boycotts continue to be normalized, people have started participating in boycotts out of peer pressure. Such a phenomenon can decrease the consistency of boycotts, and more people will begin to feel a reluctance towards the movements, resulting in negative perceptions which hinder their effectiveness.

Impacts of Social Media (nowledge.wharton.upenn.edu)

Better Companies, Better Citizens

The Company’s Response

The company should take responsibility by accepting their mistakes and correcting their wrongdoings. Thus, when consumers fight against an unjust practice, there should not be a moment of hesitation concerning the boycotts’ impacts on the franchisees. To prevent a boycott from happening, the company must instantly act upon its wrongdoings, as responding after a boycott starts would be too late. Also, the parent company is liable for compensation if the boycott negatively impacts the franchisees. For example, SPC has been repurchasing products that have not been sold within their expiration dates. Overall, it is central that companies reflect and act upon their consumer’s opinions. If there is a significant shift in societal values, the company must also shift to match the public’s demands. For instance, Victoria’s Secret, an American clothing brand and beauty retailer, has rebranded to meet the changing values of how society views women and people of various shapes and sizes. Victoria’s Secret replaced its chief executive officer (CEO), removed the once iconic runway “angels,” and replaced them with activists and entrepreneurs. Not only did this improve the brand’s image, but it also increased sales. Similarly, companies must listen to the consumers’ opinions and ardently act upon them. Taking responsibility for their mistakes without the consumers asking for them is the best possible response.

Consistency Is Key

Boycotting relies on individuals coming together to form a collective power. Therefore, the focus of the boycott must lie on each individual’s opinions of a company’s misconduct. Rather than forcing others to participate in a boycott, sharing information and creating a consistent lifestyle based around the boycott are crucial in creating meaningful change. In past successful boycotts, it is evident that the boycott’s success lies in its consistency. An example of this was in 2013 when Namyang Dairy discriminated against their female employees by sidelining them from their jobs when they took pregnancy leaves. This boycott is still going on to this day. According to the Financial Supervisory Service, sales have dropped from ₩637 billion to ₩175 billion after this incident. As such, people can change their daily consumption to create large-scale changes against unjust labor. Individuals can buy alternative examples from other brands or use this opportunity to help small local businesses. Rather than forcing a boycott, allowing people to make their own decisions by providing them with correct information will create a more extensive and longer-lasting impact.

CEO of SPC Group Making Public Apology (dt.co.kr)

As the societal impacts consumers can make in our consumerist society are now being recognized, boycotting has become the greatest weapon consumers can wield against large firms. All individuals, including Kingos, hold the power to stand against wrongdoings. Will you use your power to make a change?

임현정  alicelim@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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