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boycott, concerted economic or social ostracism of an individual, group, or nation to express disapproval or coerce change. The practice was named (1880) after Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott, an English land agent in Ireland whose ruthlessness in evicting tenants led his employees to refuse all cooperation with him and his family. In the United States the boycott has been used chiefly in labor disputes; consumer and business groups have also resorted to the method. Boycotts may be either primary or secondary. A typical example of a primary boycott is the refusal of aggrieved employees and their supporters to purchase the goods or services of an employer. A secondary boycott occurs when the aggrieved party attempts either to boycott a third party or to coerce it into joining an ongoing boycott. Thus, workers instituting a boycott may refuse to patronize firms that continue to deal with the initially boycotted party. Similarly, a secondary boycott would occur if workers struck an employer in order to force him to join the boycott of another firm. In the United States, such secondary actions are prohibited by both the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), although little has been done to enforce the ban. Beginning in the late 1960s, the United Farm Workers union employed a series of boycotts in an attempt to gain recognition as the sole bargaining agent for grape and lettuce fieldworkers. The boycott has been used as a weapon in political and racial conflicts. Outstanding examples are the refusal of American colonials to buy British goods after the passage of the Stamp Act (1765), the Chinese boycott of U.S. goods (1905) because of the poor treatment of Chinese in America, the refusal of Gandhi's followers to buy British-made goods in India, and the Arab League boycott (1948) of all companies dealing with the state of Israel. The legal status of the boycott differs with various governments.


See H. W. Laidler, Boycotts and the Labor Struggle (1914, repr. 1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



from the name of the estate manager C. C. Boycott, against whom this tactic was first used by Irish tenant farmers in 1880 because of his harsh treatment of them.

(1) In international law, the refusal of a state to establish or maintain trade, financial, or other relations with another state or group of states. In the statutes of the League of Nations the boycott figured as a form of sanction. The United Nations Charter foresees the possibility of the use of the boycott as a forcible measure for preserving peace other than the use of armed force, which may be adopted by decision of the Security Council. Article 41 of the Charter states that such measures may include a complete or partial breaking off of economic relations and rail, maritime, air, post, telegraph, or radio communications, as well as the severing of diplomatic relations. The boycott may be a form of reprisal—that is, retaliatory measures against illegal actions on the part of a state.

The USSR has used the boycott in response to actions by reactionary governments of capitalist countries. A boycott by the Soviet Union has taken the form of a break in all relations, cessation of purchases of goods from the respective countries, and refusal to participate in conferences called on the territory of the boycotted state. Thus, in 1923 the USSR declared a boycott of Switzerland after the assassination of the Soviet diplomat V. V. Vorovskii and the acquittal of the murderer by a Swiss court. (The boycott was lifted in 1927 after the Swiss government expressed regret at what had happened and a willingness to make material compensation to the family of the murdered man.)


(2) A more widely used form of boycott than the boycott in international law is the economic boycott. One of the first examples of the economic boycott was the boycott of goods imported from England by British colonists in North America in the mid-18th century. A spontaneous boycott of British goods began in India in 1905 as a protest against Viceroy Curzon’s action of separating Bengal into two parts. The boycott of British goods was one of the forms of the national liberation struggle against British domination.

A boycott may cover all forms of economic relations between states or may be applied only to certain ones. Its character and content depend on what kind of government is involved and for what purposes the boycott is introduced. In the international economic relations of imperialist states the boycott serves as a form of economic struggle and a means of economic pressure on other countries, as well as an instrument for intervention in the internal affairs of countries; this last application of the boycott is in violation of the norms of international law. The imperialist states tried to apply a boycott against the USSR after the collapse of the economic blockade of the Soviet Republic. This boycott in the 1920’s and 1930’s took the form of a campaign against purchases of Soviet timber, petroleum, matches, and certain other products and of the introduction of special prohibitions and limitations on the import of Soviet goods—for example, an embargo on the import of traditional goods exported from the Soviet Union to Great Britain in 1932–33. In its struggle against the policy of economic aggression, the Soviet government introduced a draft protocol of economic nonaggression at the London Economic Conference in 1933. Article 33 of the draft protocol proposed that states signing the protocol desist from the use of discriminatory customs duties, special conditions for import and export imposed only on certain countries, special railroad duties, special fees imposed on commercial vessels, and economic boycotts of any country’s commerce by any government or administrative measures of any kind.

After World War II the United States, Canada, several countries of Western Europe, and Japan tried to organize a boycott of the socialist countries by banning the export of goods produced by them to the USSR and other socialist states and by establishing a discriminatory restrictive system on the import of goods from the socialist states. Discriminatory measures covered not only the area of trade but were also extended to navigation and international financing, credit, and accounting relations. After the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 restrictions and prohibitions on trade with the socialist countries were reinforced even more. In 1951 the US government adopted the so-called Battle Act, which established a full-fledged system of restrictions on trade with the socialist countries. The government of the USA published a list of goods, consisting of 217 categories, whose export to the socialist countries was prohibited or restricted. Under pressure from the USA similar lists were introduced by a number of Western European countries, Canada, and Japan. Special lists of commodities were put into effect in relations with the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which in practice prohibited trade of any kind. The bankruptcy of this policy, the economic and political differences between capitalist countries, and the growing contradictions in the world capitalist market forced the imperialist states to start on the road toward normalizing economic relations with the socialist countries.

The imperialist states use the boycott as one of the means of applying pressure upon developing countries. From 1951 to 1953 the British government tried to impose a boycott on the purchase of petroleum from Iran after the Iranian government nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The governments of England and France attempted to organize a boycott against the United Arab Republic after the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the government of that country. In turn, the developing countries have used the boycott as a retaliatory measure against economic expansion; for example, the Arab governments refused to sell petroleum to the imperialist countries during the Israeli aggression (from 1967).

Within capitalist countries, the boycott is an important instrument in the competitive struggle of the monopolies, one of the forms “of throttling by the monopolists [of] those who do not submit to them, to their yoke, to their dictation” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 321).


(3) In labor relations in the capitalist countries the boycott is one of the means by which the working class conducts an economic struggle against the employers. It consists in the refusal by workers in an organized form to undertake employment with the owner of the firm being boycotted or buy the products of that firm. The boycott can take many forms. One of these is the system of labeling, a system in which special labels are attached on goods to indicate that there is no conflict between the trade union and the employer; the absence of such a label on a product signifies an appeal to the consumer to boycott the product.

In a number of capitalist states boycotts organized by the workers are prohibited or restricted in essential ways. For example, in Italy the criminal code (art. 507) provides for punishment for anyone calling for a boycott, with imprisonment for a period of up to three years; this sentence can be increased in a case in which the boycott has taken a massive form, as well as in exceptional circumstances. The law in England and the Federal Republic of Germany prohibits boycotts in cases in which their aim or means of organization is considered illegal. The vagueness of this formula permits many kinds of boycotts to be outlawed. In the United States the boycott is an especially widespread tactic. According to the Taft-Hartley Law and the Landrum-Griffin Act, so-called “secondary” boycotts—that is, boycotts in which the workers require third parties to stop buying goods or supplying raw materials to the employer with whom the workers are engaged in a labor conflict—are prohibited. Similar laws are in effect in the majority of states, and in some states even ordinary boycotts are prohibited. A ruling that a boycott is illegal results, as a rule, in the imposition of penalties on the trade union or the repayment of the employer for losses resulting from the boycott. The employer also has the right to dismiss workers for participating in a boycott.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Geoff(rey). born 1940, English cricketer: captained Yorkshire (1970--78); played for England (1964--74, 1977--82)
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