Contemplating Boycotts

July 17, 2023 |Scott Kubie

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Boycotts are becoming the weapon of choice to express dissatisfaction with corporations. Calls for boycotts will expand as cultural shifts cause brands to appeal to new markets while alienating some of their committed customers. Christians need to think carefully about how and when to participate. Boycotts are a legitimate tool and allow Christian consumers to express moral outrage against corporate activities or encourage organizations to make changes. When used unwisely, boycotts are also a weapon that can do more harm than good and draw attention away from the gospel message. Peter writes,

But, in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV).

A boycott I predicted would occur in 2020 shows how consumer protests against corporations can be messy. Each year Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, writes a letter to CEOs. In his 2020 letter, Fink outlined an aggressive approach toward combatting climate change and the risks it posed to corporations who didn’t adjust. The points weren’t new, but the rhetoric was particularly pointed. It was titled “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance and the content matched the title. The companion client letter announced BlackRock’s active strategies would no longer own coal companies and energy companies would be viewed as riskier, and BlackRock would pressure companies to adopt plans to decarbonize.” Whatever the merits of his points, he sounded less like an investment manager and more like an Old Testament prophet or judge.

When used unwisely, boycotts are also a weapon that can do more harm than good and draw attention away from the gospel message.

After reading it, I joked with the BlackRock relationship manager who worked with my previous employer that it looked like Larry was writing his application letter to run the Treasury Department in the next Democratic administration. More seriously, I noted that some of our investors, who had significant percentages of their portfolios in BlackRock strategies, would not appreciate the letter’s tone. I expected an adverse reaction and a call for a boycott.

And nothing happened.

In the meantime, BlackRock toned down its rhetoric (I wasn’t the only one who mentioned it), and I thought the issue had passed. Then, two years later, the issue caught fire. Politicians started using it as a campaign issue. Some clients began to complain about using BlackRock. Bloggers started writing pieces criticizing BlackRock. Some of those pieces wildly overstated BlackRock’s power over the assets it manages to fan the flames of dissatisfaction. The Texas legislature voted to drop BlackRock from its investment lineup. While BlackRock has continued to do well, the issue remains a challenge. Just last week, Fink sought to blame the culture war by blaming the far-left and the far-right for weaponizing the discussion and claiming his annual letters were never meant to be political statements. (Really Larry!)

For Christians, the nature of boycotts and the factors leading up to them should give us pause before deciding to use the boycott weapon as frequently as some would like.

1. Don’t derive your identity from where you shop or what you wear. Our identity is in Christ. If we find ourselves angry because a brand abandoned us, that’s on us for wrapping up our identity in something other than Jesus.

2. Have a realistic view of corporations and their purpose. Don’t expect global for-profit corporations operating in a pluralistic world to serve our agenda.

3. A community known for its love should use boycotts wisely and judiciously. Boycotts are designed to cause economic loss. There should be a process that leads up to a boycott, and the protest should be structured to target corporate leadership while minimizing the damage to innocent employees and suppliers.

One site has a list of 76 companies it believes Christians should boycott. Long before the list hit 20, someone should have asked, “Is our message the love of Jesus or our self-righteousness?”

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4: 7-11).





Scott Kubie, CFA

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