The Freedom to Shop

In a not so recent, but largely unnoticed decision (Daishowa Inc. v. Friends of Lubicon), the Ontario Divisional Court said that boycotts are illegal when specifically intended to cause economic damage to the boycott target. Isn’t that generally the point? Boycotts allow us to put our money where our mouths are; they allow us to hit a company where it hurts, so it smartens up and changes.

I often choose brands according to the sociopolitical record of the company, doesn’t everyone? Surely the days of shopping according to price and quality alone are gone. Didn’t the ‘Made in Canada’ fad and the Nestlé fiasco kickstart this broadened awareness?

I routinely refuse to purchase GE products because the company is one of the largest military contractors in the U.S. McDonalds lost my business because of the CFCs; Burger King, because it used rainforest beef. Coors? Not as long as they’re anti-gay and racist. Gillette? Proctor & Gamble? Not as long as bunnies do me no harm. And my next pair of shoes will not be Nike. (See Rating America’s Corporate Conscience, Steven D. Lydenberg et al. and The Boycott Quarterly .)

Granted, it’s getting harder to keep track of who owns who (for example, GE owns RCA now), and often my choices are less-than pure (when I was making a car purchase decision, the most fuel-efficient therefore environmentally-friendly car on the market, the Chevrolet Sprint, was made by GM, a company heavily involved with nuclear weapons). When in doubt, I choose the unknown and too-small-to-be-dangerous brands.

But now the Ontario government has taken away my freedom to choose, to shop according to my ethics. Because doing so causes economic damage to certain companies. Of course, seeing our government give priority to economics over ethics and to corporations over individuals shouldn’t surprise me.

I do wonder, though, how they’ll enforce this decision. I mean, how will the shopping police know why I buy Primo instead of Ragu, MacIntosh instead of IBM?

(They won’t. See that’s the problem with freedom. Better they just don’t give me the chance – to buy Primo, or MacIntosh, or lesbian love poems, or a solar heating system…)

I also wonder if they’re going to be consistent – will trade embargoes be illegal now too, and economic sanctions no longer an alternative to bloodshed? Pity.


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