The subject of the boycott is increasingly pervasive in Catholic circles these days, spurred as powerful corporations like Disney and Amazon use their wealth and reach to promote problematic ideologies and practices in the wider culture.
The boycott, of course, is nothing new in Catholic circles. 300,000 Catholics in Philadelphia signed a pledge to boycott movie theaters in 1934 after their cardinal archbishop described the venues as “perhaps the greatest threat to faith and morals in America today.” In the 1960s, Catholic labor leader Cesar Chavez led boycotts of the California wine industry over unfair labor practices. And more recently, the Diocese of Columbus joined a 2021 boycott of fast food chain Wendy’s in an effort to improve wages and conditions for farmworkers.
But unlike those efforts, boycott calls from Catholics and other social conservatives today are less about how companies make their products, and more about what they do with their products. profits.
Disney, whose 2021 revenue was more than $67 billion, has spoken out forcefully against a Florida law that bans classroom teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten in the 3rd year. The media and entertainment conglomerate said its goal “as a company” is to repeal the law or have it struck down by the courts, pledging its support for advocacy groups working towards those goals. Additionally, Disney has pledged to promote gender ideology — the idea that the gender someone is born with is arbitrary and can be changed — in future productions.
Meanwhile, with Roe vs. Wade With a reversal looking likely, Amazon and several other companies have pledged to ensure access to abortion for staff members living in states where abortion is likely to be banned or restricted. The nation’s second-largest private employer, Amazon, said it would cover up to $4,000 in travel costs for employees seeking out-of-state abortions.
A Catholic scholar told the Register that he is not surprised that Catholics are increasingly faced with the question of whether to boycott a company because of its political and social activism.
“For a long time, corporate America really wanted to stay out of culture wars because they wanted everyone to shop at their store or buy their car,” said David Cloutier, professor of moral theology at Catholic University. from America. “But that has changed.”
Cloutier says companies are increasingly aligning themselves with “broader sets of values,” particularly to attract potential customers from younger demographics.
“And I think that makes it harder for Catholics because when you spend money with a certain company, you’re also supporting or promoting a certain set of social values,” Cloutier said. “And it’s reasonable to feel uncomfortable doing business with a company that openly promotes social values you don’t agree with.”
The AUC theologian told the Register that this trend offers an important reminder to Catholics that “how we spend our money is truly a moral decision,” a longstanding tenet of Church social teaching. And he suggests that the Church’s framework on cooperating with evil can serve as a useful guide for a Catholic discerning whether or not to boycott a company engaging in problematic practices – in the factory or in the public square. .
The first distinction to make, said Cloutier, is between formal cooperation and material cooperation. Formal cooperation with evil involves sharing the morally repugnant intent of the business in question – “and that should never happen. This is always false in the Catholic tradition.
The moral dimensions related to material cooperation with evil, which involves doing business or being materially involved in a company’s problematic practices, but without sharing their intentions, are more nuanced, given the interconnectedness of cultural, economic and political life within a society. .
“If you were to buy only from companies that do nothing wrong, you would have to leave the world,” Cloutier joked.
Still, material cooperation with evil is “not a get-out-of-jail card,” Cloutier said, and not justifiable in every case. Determining what to do in specific cases involves making a proportional judgment in two areas: how serious is the evil in question and how close is cooperation to it?
For example, someone running the trains on time in Nazi Germany, which is not inherently problematic, should consider the extent to which his activity contributed to the atrocities of the concentration camps, an evil of epic proportions. Alternatively, Cloutier fails to find compelling arguments that McDonald’s, by continuing to do business in Moscow, is immorally cooperating with Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine, given how far away the sale of hamburgers is from efforts. real wars.
Additionally, Cloutier said the framework also involves a proportional judgment on the seriousness of not materially cooperating with evil or boycotting. For example, the decision to boycott a grocery store that promotes problematic causes looks different if it was the only option available that fit your budget and allowed you to feed your family.
However, for a Catholic considering boycotting Disney because of its political and cultural activism, Cloutier said the consequences don’t really compare.
“Your family won’t suffer that much.”
Cloutier acknowledges that the traditional application of the cooperating with evil framework to boycott and certain economic decisions has typically focused on the company as a business – not as a political actor. It is easier to assess cooperation with perverse links associated with production, such as a company’s treatment of its workers or the contribution of its products to environmental degradation, because these issues are directly related to the purpose and core business practices.
But what’s happening with Disney and Amazon is harder to assess, given the distance between their activism and their economic activity.
“The deeper issue here is that corporations are being used in what is fundamentally a political struggle,” Cloutier said. “Disney shouldn’t be making decisions about what kind of sexuality we want to teach in schools. No company should be doing that, because it’s not a corporate decision. It’s a legislative decision, it’s why Disney doesn’t run the schools, the state legislature does.
“We shouldn’t look to Disney for advice on this matter,” Cloutier continued. “We should be discussing it in state legislatures, in town hall debates, and in the political process,” which is inhibited when “big corporations like Disney have disproportionate power.”
Cloutier describes corporate politicization as a problematic case of “hyperpartisanship,” which he says will only intensify if deer is overthrown.
“If every product choice you make has to indicate which side of the political aisle you’re on, from the canned goods you buy to the brand of pancakes you get, that’s probably very bad for society.”
Make the difference
When it comes to discerning whether to boycott or not, Cloutier said he doesn’t think too much weight should be given to whether a person’s economic activity will be ” effective” or not, in part because it can be so difficult to predict how things may play out. For example, he points out that the pro-life movement would never have had the impact it had in American society if people had simply calculated whether or not their advocacy would be effective immediately afterwards. Deer.
“My preference as a Catholic is to focus on yourself and realize that you have a responsibility for your money to use it morally,” he said. “And if you can decrease your material cooperation with evil, do so”, without being too scrupulous.
That being said, it also indicates that it is reasonable to take into account the strength with which a company supports a particular program, as well as the degree to which the problem or problematic practice has been resolved in society at large. On the issue of promoting transgender ideology, which Disney seems determined to do, Cloutier said there is still a window of opportunity for Catholics to make a difference through their economic decisions.
“Even though there are a lot of things pushing this issue in one direction, there are all sorts of possibilities for the horse not to come out of the stable,” he said, noting that there are has great unease among the medical community and some secular thinkers about the claims. gender ideology.
Cloutier points out that the Church’s framework for evaluating cooperation with evil is less a magic formula than a set of principles. The hard work of forming conscience and discernment is still needed for Catholics trying to determine whether to boycott corporations, whether they are those advancing immoral political agendas like Disney and Amazon, or others whose business practices do not respect the dignity of workers, consumers, and the common good.
“Do your best, that is, sincerely try to follow the teaching of the Church, and recognize that spending is not just a question of ‘what good I want’ or ‘what is more easy’, but it’s a moral act,” Cloutier said. . “How we spend our money really matters, and if I send a message with my money that I don’t support this, or I support that, it makes a difference.”