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Major boycotts that changed history

  • Major boycotts that changed history

    While boycotts have occurred throughout history, the movement got its name in 1880. English land agent Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott raised the rent, inhumanely evicting his tenants in Ireland. The community joined together and refused to pay or work with him, eventually forcing him to leave. The "boycott" was born, and the idea took hold.

    In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, inspiring the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The 13-month protest ended with the Supreme Court barring segregation on public buses. In the 1980s, when the United States and other countries refused to do business with or travel to South Africa, they eventually prompted an end to the apartheid that had separated black and whites there since 1948. Some boycotts exist to raise awareness of social issues, as well. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, for example, Americans are called to participate in “Buy Nothing Day,” an anti-consumerism campaign.

    While some efforts change laws and others may only change minds, boycotts can be a powerful nonviolent way to make a difference. Using historical reports and news accounts, Stacker compiled a list of 30 influential boycotts.

    Click through to see which organized movements have changed history.

    You may also like: States with the most protests

  • Montgomery Bus Boycott

    In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her act of civil disobedience launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 13-month protest during which black residents refused to ride city buses. The boycott was organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association, which launched civil rights into the national spotlight. The Supreme Court ultimately outlawed segregation on public buses.

  • Delano Grape Strike

    On Mexican Independence Day in 1965, Cesar Chavez and other Latino farm workers helped Filipino-American grape workers protest for better wages and working conditions in Delano, Calif. The Delano Grape Strike lasted until 1970, and prompted an international boycott. Their efforts led to the nation’s first farm workers union: the United Farm Workers of America. 

  • Nestle Co.

    In 1977, the Infant Formula Action Coalition organized a boycott of Nestle Co. The company advertised its infant formula as "better than breast milk,” pushing this message harder in poorer countries. Complaints prompted a worldwide boycott that lasted nearly seven years, with Nestle spending about $100 million to fight the negative press. This led to new marketing rules set by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the boycott ended when Nestle agreed to comply with most of the standards concerning infant formula sales. The company faced accusations again in 2018 that it once more violated ethical marketing codes regarding its infant formulas, misleading customers with inaccurate nutritional claims.


  • 1980 Summer Olympics

    The Olympics may seem like an unusual thing to protest, which is probably why the United States has only done it once. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter refused to send American athletes to the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow as a protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. More than 60 nations joined the U.S. The Soviet-Afghan War continued until 1989, and the Soviets led their own boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.


  • SeaWorld

    SeaWorld came under public scrutiny in 2013 after the release of the documentary "Blackfish,” which criticized marine parks for its practice of keeping orcas in captivity. The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for boycotts of the park, and public attendance at SeaWorld decreased. In 2016, the marine park announced it would no longer breed or feature shows with orcas.


  • Sex boycotts for an end to violence

    In 2003, Leymah Gbowee and other Liberian women went on a successful sex strike to end the country’s civil war. Gbowee won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. In 2006, female partners of gang members in Pereira, Colombia, withheld sex as they demanded fewer guns and less violence in their city. By 2010, Pereira’s murder rate had fallen by 26.5%.

  • Gandhi's Salt March

    Mahatma Gandhi in 1930 led a 240-mile march in India to the Arabian Sea to protest Britain’s colonial salt laws, which didn’t allow Indians to process or sell their own salt. In front of thousands, Gandhi and his followers broke the law by evaporating seawater to make salt. He encouraged others to do the same. Gandhi reached an agreement with India’s British viceroy in 1931 in exchange for an end to the salt tax and the release of political prisoners. Colonial rule remained, but the act of civil disobedience stoked the fires of independence. In 1947, British rule ended and the country was divided into India and Pakistan.  

  • Anti-apartheid movement

    To protest apartheid in South Africa, an international campaign against the oil company Royal Dutch Shell was launched in 1986. In America, there were nationwide calls from labor and civil rights groups asking the public not to buy gas from Shell stations. Because of the uprising of outrage over apartheid, Congress voted to override a veto by President Ronald Reagan on the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. This banned South African imports, airlines, and foreign aid from the U.S. The end of apartheid began in the early 1990s, when Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were freed. Apartheid officially ended in 1994, when Mandela became the country's first black leader.

  • International Buy Nothing Day

    The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Crowds often line up before sunrise, and sometimes violence ensues. In an anti-shopping move, “Buy Nothing Day” was launched in 1992. It started in Canada, but has become an international movement focusing on anti-consumerism. In 2010, American Express launched Small Business Saturday as an alternative to Black Friday, and a year later, the Senate passed a resolution to support the independent business shopping day. In 2015, outdoor-retailer REI decided to close on Black Friday.

  • Arab League Boycott of Israel

    In 1945, the League of Arab States (Arab League) launched an economic boycott of Israel. U.S. allies that participate in the boycott are Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In the 1970s, the U.S. adopted two laws that prohibited U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel, which remains mostly symbolic and has little impact on Israeli or Arab economies.