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slides: 5 Businesses Getting Boycotted in New England

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Elections come and go, but Americans can vote every day with their wallets. That’s what’s happening now at Hobby Lobby, a 560-store national chain with locations in the Providence and Worcester areas.

A suit before the U.S. Supreme Court claims that, as a "tightly held" family business with Evangelical Christian convictions, Hobby Lobby should not have to follow the Affordable Care Act's mandate that it provide two "objectionable" methods of contraception to its female employees. Outside the court, grass-roots Hobby Lobby boycotts have taken to social media and beyond to protest the company for being discriminatory. Twenty years ago this would have meant picket signs and chants in parking lots. Today, boycotts move as quickly as a keystroke.

See more about boycotts in New England in the slides below

“Anyone who boycotts a company is sending a clear message of disapproval,” said Gina Betti, associate director of the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

“Social media will pick it up and it will spread quickly. It is a must to address concerns in a constructive manner. But it also allows companies an opportunity to improve their message. I’ve always said that the customer who complains the loudest is also your best asset. Addressing concerns quickly stems critical momentum that can hurt future sales.”

Substance as important as reach

This is not to say that any one individual with an agenda and some free time is going to change a corporation. The substance of the boycott is as important as its reach.

“The reason for the boycott is an important predictor of impact. For example, the boycotts during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s was extremely important in drawing attention to an injustice. Boycotts by single interest fringe groups may be a nuisance, but are generally counterproductive,” said Gray Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University and former Executive Director Rhode Island Public Expenditure.

Risks to reputation

Businesses that take a stand on an economic, social, labor relations or political issues may face activists and negative media coverage. However, customers who agree with the position of the business may redouble their efforts to support the company.

“One of the most important risks today is risk to reputation. Most boycotts have a short shelf life. No one benefits from a boycott. Short-term sales and profit and the business's reputation in the community will be affected. Large businesses often have an emergency plan on how to deal with reputation issues while small business owners are generally not trained to deal with crises such as a boycott,” said Dr. Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at The University of Rhode Island.

Negative attention affecting change

Companies responding to this type of negative attention have history as a resource. When seven people died after taking Tylenol that had been poisoned, the company’s response became the gold standard for corporate responsibility.

“The objective is to minimize business loss when threatened with a boycott. The best way is to anticipate it and correct its causes in advance. If that cannot be done, take the lead in communications and get the news out as soon as possible to all the business's stakeholders. Information provided to social and news media should be prompt, honest, credible, informative and managed. Sometimes it is more important to communicate values rather than hard data when dealing with activists. It is always important to take the high ground in dealing with issues that affect a company's reputation,” Mazze said. 


Related Slideshow: 5 Businesses Facing Boycotts

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Hobby Lobby

Retail Arts and Crafts Stores

Headquarters: Oklahoma City, OK

Local Locations: Warwick, RI; Seekonk, MA; Holyoke, MA; Manchester, NH; East Haven, CT

The company is proud and public regarding its Christian orientation. Founder David Green says "its true owner is God." The national chain of 560 stores are closed Sundays.
There is currently a suit before the U.S. Supreme Court which claims that, as a "tightly held" family business with Evangelical Christian convictions, it should not have to abide by the Affordable Care Act's mandate that it provide two "objectionable" methods of contraception to its female employees.
These methods are emergency contraception (or Plan B) and various intrauterine devices, which Hobby Lobby owners consider "abortifacients." 
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Fast Food Restaurants

Headquarters: College Park, GA

Local Locations: Burlington, MA; Chicopee, MA, Peabody, MA; Westborough, MA (Pending); Warwick, RI (Pending)

The American fast-food chain known for ads in which cows encourage customers to eat chicken was the focus of controversy following a series of public comments made in June 2012 by chief operating officer Dan Cathy opposing same-sex marriage.
Cathy’s comments went public just after reports that Chick-fil-A's charitable endeavor, the S. Truett Cathy-family-operated WinShape Foundation, had made millions in donations to political groups that oppose LGBT rights. Activists called for protests and boycotts of the chain, while counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city "unless they open up their policies.” The former Mayor also wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, stating: "We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people."
In July, 2012. Chick-fil-A released a statement in July 2012 stating, "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." 2014 tax filings for 2012 showed the group stopped funding all but one of the criticized organizations.
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Gas Stations

Headquarters: Houston, TX

Local Locations: 14 Rhode Island locations

Many Americans supported boycotts of the company known locally for their iconic Fenway Park sign because they equated it with boycotting Venezuela President Hugo Chávez. Citgo is owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of Venezuela.
In 2006 at the United Nations, Chávez called George W. Bush the devil and claimed the U.S. president left a sulfur smell around the U.N. speakers’ podium – strong words, even in light of Bush’s declining polling numbers and popularity in America.
The Venezuelan president was famous for anti-American rhetoric. He referred to the United States as “a bad person,” “an assassin,” and “a violent invader.” He speculated about whether the United States was responsible for a spate of cancer diagnoses among Latin American leftists. 
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WPRO's John DePetro

AM Talk Radio

Headquarters: Providence, RI

This is not the first time Rhode Islanders have boycotted John Depetro and companies that advertise on his program. This time, however, politicians are on board.
In September, DePetro called two female labor activists whores on his WPRO morning radio show. He was fired from a radio station in Boston for calling a gubernatorial candidate a “fat lesbian.” He and WPRO are bieng sued by a WPRO employee for sexual harassment. His wife took blame for a ratings scandal in which someone from his home address faked industry reporting forms.
Labor leader Maureen Martin is the public face of For Our Daughters, the group that is trying to get DePetro off the air. She’s been joined by at least 14 high-level politicians who say they won’t spend their campaign dollars on WPRO until DePetro is off the air. This list includes Governor Lincoln Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, U.S. Rep. James Langevin and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and State Republican Party Chairman Mark Smiley.
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Allston DoubleTree Suites


Headquarters: McLean, VA

Workers initiated a boycott of the Harvard-owned DoubleTree Hotel in Allston last month over the process of deciding whether to join UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based union that represents Harvard’s dining hall employees.
On Thursday, March 27, workers announced the boycott and asked that guests not meet, eat or sleep at the property until they receive respect and dignity at work.
More than 100 workers were joined by Harvard dining services employees, Harvard undergraduate and graduate students and hotel workers from all over the city. The workers have also found support from City Cambridge Councilors Dennis Benzan, Marc McGovern, Leland Cheung, and Nadeem Mazen.
Workers can unionize in two different ways. One involves a National Labor Relations Board election that leads to a union if 50 percent of workers vote for one. The other way, preferred by the protesting DoubleTree workers, allows workers to sign a card at any time that allows a union to be formed.

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