boycott, concerted economic or social ostracism of an individual, group, or nation to express disapproval or coerce change. The practice was named (1880) after Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott, an English land agent in Ireland whose ruthlessness in evicting tenants led his employees to refuse all cooperation with him and his family. In the United States the boycott has been used chiefly in labor disputes; consumer and business groups have also resorted to the method. Boycotts may be either primary or secondary. A typical example of a primary boycott is the refusal of aggrieved employees and their supporters to purchase the goods or services of an employer. A secondary boycott occurs when the aggrieved party attempts either to boycott a third party or to coerce it into joining an ongoing boycott. Thus, workers instituting a boycott may refuse to patronize firms that continue to deal with the initially boycotted party. Similarly, a secondary boycott would occur if workers struck an employer in order to force him to join the boycott of another firm. In the United States, such secondary actions are prohibited by both the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), although little has been done to enforce the ban. Beginning in the late 1960s, the United Farm Workers union employed a series of boycotts in an attempt to gain recognition as the sole bargaining agent for grape and lettuce fieldworkers. The boycott has been used as a weapon in political and racial conflicts. Outstanding examples are the refusal of American colonials to buy British goods after the passage of the Stamp Act (1765), the Chinese boycott of U.S. goods (1905) because of the poor treatment of Chinese in America, the refusal of Gandhi's followers to buy British-made goods in India, and the Arab League boycott (1948) of all companies dealing with the state of Israel. The legal status of the boycott differs with various governments.
See H. W. Laidler, Boycotts and the Labor Struggle (1914, repr. 1968).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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