Last Sunday, an old schoolmate and I were discussing the fact that Starbucks recently felt compelled to disclose that, contrary to Internet rumors, its Jewish CEO had not made donations to Israel or to the IDF. My friend, who like me is Jewish, was bothered by the fact that the CEO had not made donations to Israel. I was bothered by the invasion of that individual’s liberty. No company, I suggested, should be judged based where its employees at any level make donations of their own free will.
My friend took exception: would I use Facebook, for example, if I knew it made donations to Al-Queda? I explained that of course I would not. Allow me to explain the principle.
If a company as a company operates under policies or makes donations that are objectionable and particularly if it does so for reasons that are objectionable, we should judge the company and its products/services in light of those policies/donations. Similarly, if an artist lives their lives in accordance with, or advocates publicly, principles that are objectionable and makes donations on that basis, we judge the artist and his/her creations on that basis.
The principle is this: you judge the work based on the nature of the creator. That is not to say we boycott that company or that individual as a matter of course, only that we cannot divorce the creator from its product.
But if the employee of a company, regardless of rank, makes donations to a cause to which we object, or holds beliefs that we find objectionable, we step into a more fraught question.
Given that companies engage in the collective creation of a product or service, the influence of a single individual is moderated by the collective effort of all. It is far more difficult to tie that individual to the nature of a creation. In this case, a boycott makes good people suffer along with the bad, and you lose the ability as a customer to ensure that the good influences guide the company, rather than the bad.
Boycotts, personal or collective, can be positive tools that help change bad behaviors in companies, artists, and occasionally foreign governments. They can also be weapons that destroy rather than change, that do massive collateral damage, or that can just be tools for demagogues to manipulate us all.
Principle and care, not passion and hate, must guide the use of any tool that can be used as a weapon. Boycotts are no exception.