Tansy Hoskins in the Guardian: Can consumer boycotts change the world?

Russia Gay RallyTansy Hoskins, author of the forthcoming Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion (Pluto, 2014) wrote a piece for the Guardian earlier this week, questioning the efficacy of consumer boycotts and ‘clicktivism’ in the face of Russia’s recent abrogation of LGBT rights.

To show their support for those facing persecution in Russia, LGBT activists in the US decided to implement a boycott of Russian exports. Russia’s big three – oil, iron, and fertiliser – are not easily boycotted by high street consumers so a more accessible Russian resource was chosen. Vodka. With Smirnoff British-owned and Absolute French-owned, activists picked Stolichnaya vodka – more commonly known as Stoli – as the high profile target of their Russia boycott.

A campaign began on Twitter: #dumpstoli. Photographs circulated of Stoli being poured into gutters outside New York bars, and a social media storm erupted. This invoked an almost instant response from Stolichnaya, and a widespread discussion on the effectiveness of such boycotts.

She then describes the backlash against the campaign, particularly emanating from quarters within the Latvian and Russian LGBT communities who expressed concern that the boycott would damage workers and indigenous campaigns in their own countries.

All Out, a US based LGBT campaigning group with 1.7 million members, did not participate in the vodka boycott, choosing instead to continue to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee over the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi.

Andre Banks, the organisation’s co-founder explains: “Boycotts are a chance for people to take their power as consumers and turn it into a social good. But the challenge is making sure it puts real pressure on Putin and projects a positive image of the LGBT community. We do not want to send the message that we are anti-Russian or anti-Russian business. The problem is Putin not Russia.”

As Tansy observes, UK-based campaigns also had their doubts about the Stoli boycott, what with it being symptomatic of a wider malaise in activism – where one’s agency and sense of responsibility are reduced down to an individualised online ‘clicktivism’.

“People mustn’t think that if they have one less vodka at G.A.Y. or click ‘like’ on Facebook then that is their activism done,” explained Richard Lane at Stonewall, “campaigning is about more than just Twitter storms, change needs long-term commitment from people.”

Sky Yarlett at the NUS agrees that real change comes at a higher price than foregoing flavoured vodka. “It is good to have a company like SPI make supportive statements but it has not changed anything in Russia. People must go deeper and look for the systemic problems. Stoli is not the enemy – the Russian government hurting LGBT people is the enemy.”

To read Tansy’s concluding thoughts, check out the original post here.

You can pre-order her forthcoming book for just £13.50 including free UK P&P. It delves into the exclusive and alluring world of fashion, exposing class division, gender stereotyping and wasteful consumption, by clicking on the cover image below.

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