One weapon consumer patriots have in influencing corporate responsibility among American firms is the all-powerful boycott. Of course such strategies carry more weight if there are ways to act in unison with other consumer groups or organizations, but nothing gets the attention of corporations more than hitting them in their bottom line and causing profits to suffer by steering consumer dollars to their competitors.
The French boycott that began right before the Iraq war was probably the most notable of successful boycotts - at least recently. Americans suddenly started to think twice about where their wine, cosmetics and other products were made and if they were French-owned or not. And suddenly people started buying more Italian, Australian and fortunately more California wine as a result. American consumers also discovered that such familiar brands as Dannon, L'Oreal, Maybelline, Wild Turkey and RCA were French brands and that there were plenty of good American alternatives.
Labor unions have been somewhat successful with many boycotts since union workers still make up about 13% of the workforce in America, and have forced many companies - American owned and foreign owned alike - to pay American workers more-acceptable wages and provide better working conditions. Labor unions have also played a large part in other high-profile legislation and were instrumental in denying President Clinton fast track authority in the 1990s.
One of the more-recent labor issues on the job front involved Maytag's decision to close their refrigerator plant in Galesburg, Illinois and transfer the work to Mexico. But as with any situation that is clearly a negative for thousands of American workers, we must carefully determine the best course of action. The best solution is not always to immediately boycott the company that has forced American workers once on assembly lines to instead assemble in unemployment lines.
For example, although Wal-Mart is America's largest importer of Chinese-made goods and has forced many American suppliers to source their product from China to meet Wal-Mart's strong-arm demands, the AFL-CIO has not adopted a formal boycott against Wal-Mart. The reason? Wal-Mart might boycott union suppliers as a result and force still more American workers to lose their jobs. But we can still boycott Wal-Mart as individual consumers. The reasons in favor of doing so are overwhelming in number. There is a difficult-to-find article on my website that I wrote several years ago about Wal-Mart and you can read it here, but of course many more reasons to boycott Wal-Mart have developed since the earlier part of this decade.
Should we stop buying Maytag refrigerators which now come from Mexico? The answer is "yes" as long as there are American brands like Whirlpool, Amana, General Electric and Kenmore that still manufacture in the USA. But should we boycott the entire Maytag line of products, which include other types of appliances manufactured by other American workers? The answer to this question is a definite "no." Allow me to explain why:
Many of you reading this article are subscribers to the "Buy American Mention of the Week" and receive this article automatically. One subscriber to this list works for Maytag and assembles washers and dryers in Newton, Iowa, and recently informed me that although Maytag did move their refrigerator jobs to Mexico, they have also recently moved some jobs from Mexico back to America.
It seemed Maytag was starting down the same path with their washers and dryers as they were with their refrigerators when they transferred production of the electrical-wiring harnesses from Iowa to Mexico. These harnesses were fabricated south of the border and shipped back to Iowa where union workers would install them in Maytag washers and dryers. But over a period of several months, Maytag discovered quality problems with the harnesses, and the work has since moved back where it belongs in Iowa. Workers who once fabricated the electrical harnesses in America were put back to work and the rest of the Maytag workers who feared their jobs might be in jeopardy now feel much more secure.
Had we boycotted Maytag washers and dryers, would the electrical-harness work be transferred to another foreign location? Maybe. Had we boycotted Maytag washers and dryers, would Maytag have suffered losses in profits that might have forced them to explore relocating more work from America - where we demand higher wages - to a different low-wage location like China? Possibly.
Even if the answers to these questions turned out to be "no" and work stayed in America anyway, a company-wide boycott of Maytag probably would have had no overall effect since Maytag's competitors (who you would now be patronizing) are - to at least some degree - doing the same thing. Consumers angry at Maytag might have bought a Frigidaire, White-Westinghouse or Gibson refrigerator. But did you know the Swedish owner of these brands also owns Eureka and recently moved production of their vacuum cleaners from Michigan to Mexico? There are examples like this in almost every industry. Consumers upset that Nike makes no shoes in America might buy Reebok or Adidas instead not realizing these other companies don't make any shoes here either. New Balance still makes about 30% of their tennis/walking shoes in America and SAS (San Antonio Shoes) makes all of their tennis/walking shoes here. Consumers upset at Levis for closing their last American factory shift to buying Lee or Wrangler who are closing factories just as fast. Some consumers angry at Maytag probably bought an American-made Haier refrigerator from Wal-Mart not realizing Haier was a Chinese-owned company, when they could have bought an America-made refrigerator from an American-owned company.
As with any strategy, the reaction to Maytag's decision to close its refrigerator plant needs to be well-planned. Awareness is the key. The next refrigerator you buy should be American made and American owned since only American workers pay taxes to America and American companies pay about three times as many taxes to the U.S. Treasury as foreign companies (like Eureka, White-Westinghouse and Frigidaire) do.
Profits are the lifeblood of any successful economy, and American companies must have adequate profits to pay American wages. Aside from obvious examples of pure greed, the reason many American companies move offshore is inadequate profits in an increasingly more-competitive economy. Let's support the home team and make sure they know we all stand behind American companies who still make things here to keep them making things here. We are all in this global economy together, and we need to work together to make the right buying decisions that have the best lasting effect.
In the case of Maytag, a company-wide boycott would have only resulted in more American layoffs and kept other jobs in Mexico from returning home. There must be at least one American company in every category of American industry to prevent foreign monopolies in our homeland which could lead to foreign price-fixing in the absence of American competition. What incentive will Japanese companies have to avoid collusion once all the American electronics competitors are gone? Would Japanese companies act in the best interest of their home country or their U.S. subsidiaries? If Toyota put GM out of business and Honda bought Ford, would what's best for Nissan also be what's best for America? I doubt it.