What do you do when a company is repeatedly caught trashing the environment and refuses to change its ways? Boycott! Activists and campaigners often use boycotting a company’s products when other methods have failed, yet in Australia such boycotts could soon become illegal. The Guardian reported last week that the Australia government is currently mulling a plan to remove an exception for to employ “secondary boycotts.” The news comes amid of a U-turn on environmental protections under the new coalition government headed by Tony Abbott.
“Boycotts have been one of the most important arrows in the quiver of responsible conservationists and consumers. They’ve convinced many environmentally predatory firms around the world to clean up their acts,” said well-known ecologist, William Laurance, a professor at James Cook University in Australia. “It’s a tremendously bad idea.”
Laurance is also the head of the new environmental group, the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers or ALERT.
Clearcut logging in Styx Valley, Tasmania. A number of high profile boycotts have revolved around stores selling products made from old-growth forests in Tasmania. Photo by: TTaylor/Creative Commons 3.0.
Richard Colbeck, Tasmania Senator and the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, told the Guardian that the “secondary boycotts” by environmental groups will be up for the debate by the government, though consumer protection boycotts will stay. Colbeck pointed to a number of recent boycotts in Australia targeting the timber industry for clearcutting native forests, calling it “a dishonest campaign.”
However, the scientists with ALERT argue that such boycotts have proven hugely effective in improving companies with poor environmental records across a number of industries, from seafood to soy to palm oil.
“Boycotts get the attention of environment-destroying companies because they hit them where it hurts—their reputation and market share,” Corey Bradshaw, a professor at the University of Adelaide and member of ALERT, said.
Laurance adds that the government’s “proposal blatantly favors big business over the interests of consumers.”
However, the Colbeck’s proposal may not last long. Already Australia’s Minister for Small Business, Bruce Bilson, told the Sydney Morning Herald that “there are currently no specific plans on the table to make changes to secondary boycott provisions,” although he was aware of the proposal.
The proposal comes on the heels of a number of environmental deregulations pushed by the Abbott coalition, including abolishing a nascent carbon tax, opening up areas of a World Heritage forest for logging, a moratorium on new protected areas, a shark cull, and dumping coal dredge in the Great Barrier Reef.
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