Tobias Baumann ’19 begins his Feb. 16 op-ed (“Boycotting brands won’t remedy injustice”), “In our capitalist economy, ethical consumption is not possible.” On this point, we do not disagree. The Kenyon Solidarity Boycott, which I helped to organize with members of Divest Kenyon, Students for Justice in Paletsine, ECO and Indigenous Nations at Kenyon, does not claim that the products that we are targeting are the only unethical products on the market. Baumann is correct in asserting that capitalism as an economic model depends on exploitation. However, his argument against the Solidarity Boycott ignores the logic behind boycott movements in general.
As we wrote in our email to all students and staff: “The power of a boycott comes from its mobilization of masses of people.” While it is impossible to become an entirely ethical consumer, it is possible to challenge specific sites of injustice through mass social action. Though boycotts ask people not to spend money at certain businesses, the real power of a boycott comes from the social stigma that it creates around certain unethical practices. Each product that the Kenyon Solidarity Boycott focuses on is part of a larger national boycott movement.
Baumann focuses on the boycott of Wendy’s, writing, “McDonald’s has arguably done just as much to merit inclusion on the poster as Wendy’s.” While it is true that McDonald’s engages in unethical practices, we are not focusing on McDonald’s because there is not a large boycott movement against the chain. The boycott against Wendy’s was called by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers from Florida, the state which grows 90 percent of the country’s winter tomatoes. The specific goal of the boycott is to force the corporation to sign onto the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program is a partnership between farmworkers, growers and retail buyers that increases wages and improves conditions for fieldworkers. Currently, the Immokalee Workers are building energy in Columbus, leading up to multiple days of protests at the end of March. Our work on campus is building on these actions by Immokalee Workers to stigmatize Wendy’s for its refusal to sign onto the agreement (which, incidentally, McDonald’s has signed). While Wendy’s will likely still engage in unethical practices even after the Immokalee Workers win, the boycott will have achieved its specific goal.
We agree with Baumann that there are larger movements out there, but it is difficult to directly support the “Fight for Fifteen” while we are isolated in Gambier, Ohio since the movement is not taking place in a nearby city. Boycotts are a simple way for us to support larger movements while simultaneously raising a critical consciousness, so when Kenyon students leave the Hill they are prepared and energized to challenge a broader exploitive system.
Katherine King ’17 is a sociology major from Wilder, Ky. Contact her at email@example.com.