On August 11, the Wall Street Journal published an op ed by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, about health care reform.
Since then, there’s been quite the brouhaha, and many have called for a boycott of Whole Foods because John Mackey expressed his opinion on, and put forth his own ideas for health care reform. There have been blog posts in the New York Times and Huffington Post. Some are calling him foolish, at best, to have expressed an opinion so different from the majority of those who shop at his store. Personally, I consider it courageous and a demonstration of integrity to express views that differ from most of your customers.
One commenter said he was going to boycott Whole Foods because John Mackey is a Republican, and he doesn’t want his money going to a Republican. Funny. How is it that this commenter determined that John Mackey is a Republican? Mackey is a self-proclaimed Libertarian, actually, and a hugely generous supporter of many social change causes.
I agreed with much of what John Mackey wrote in his op-ed. I also disagreed with much of it. But why would the CEO’s opinion about pending health care reform legislation be relevant to whether or not I shop at Whole Foods?
The purpose of boycotts is to cause economic harm, or the threat of economic harm, to a company so that the company changes policies and practices that one considers wrong, immoral, unjust, etc. Unless one considers Whole Foods to be doing something wrong, there is no reason to boycott it simply because the CEO expressed an opinion. What would such a boycott serve? What do the boycotters want to change? John Mackey’s opinion? If John Mackey changed his opinion because of a threat of a boycott, would these boycotters be happy? Would they then want to shop at a grocery whose CEO lacked such strength of character that he changed his opinion to stop a boycott?
We should also ask what such a boycott could harm. If enough people joined the boycott, many people who happily and gratefully work at Whole Foods could lose their jobs. The people who supply the organic, fair trade, and local produce could lose one of their biggest vendors and suffer financial hardship. Is that a goal of the boycotters? Boycotts (like everything else) should, in my opinion, follow the MOGO principle. They should be skillfully deployed so that they do the most good and the least harm to all involved.
Image courtesy of ilovemypit via Creative Commons.
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