August 2009 Unethical Websites


This website is leading the charge to boycott Whole Foods. Why a boycott? Is Whole Foods supporting child labor in its choice of suppliers, or bolstering nations that practice apartheid? Well, no. Does Whole Foods mistreat or exploit its employees, or mistreat and mislead its customers? No again; in fact, this is a corporation whose business practices are exemplary. People are organizing a boycott of Whole Foods stores because its outspoken CEO, John Mackey, had the audacity to express his opinion (in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed) that the Obama’s administration’s approach to health care reform is not the best option for the country.

Economic boycotts can be powerful and effective strategies to express societal outrage at unethical practices by a corporation, and to apply economic pressure to persuade a company to change its ways. They can also cause a great deal of collateral damage to innocent people who have no say in the company’s conduct, and for this reason, among others, a boycott must be fair, reasonable, and inspired by an issue that is important enough to justify a tactic that treads very close to the definition of extortion. It is not persuasion. It is coercion. Coercion is usually unethical.

So what is the objective of the Whole Foods boycott? Punishment. Revenge, Intimidation. A group of people who are so convinced that they have the perfect solution to the health care problem want to send the message that anyone who disagrees will be sorry he or she did. That’s all. It is a boycott designed to punish dissent; it is a project with the sole purpose of making John Mackey, his business, all the people who work for his company, and all his investors pay a penalty because he chose to publicly express an opinion that some of his customers don’t like.

On the website, the self-righteous boycott leaders make the argument that Whole Foods has built its business with the support of “deceived progressives.” Deceived progressives? Whole Foods sells food, not policies. Its customers would be deceived if it sold bad produce. Suddenly, in America, it is not enough to deliver a good product or service, according to these individuals; no, you must also confine your political opinions to those that please your customers. And if conservatives choose to shop at Whole Foods? Well, let them organize their own boycott! Better yet, let them shop at a conservative store! Let’s have big Red and Blue signs over all business establishments, so Left and Right knows who is virtuous enough for their business! This is unreasonable nonsense. Running a business is difficult enough without having to kowtow to the ideological fashions of intolerant consumers. (The site’s operators also denounce Mackey for “quoting Margaret Thatcher”—the horror!!!—and opposing “the only health insurance reform that will both control costs and insure everyone,” as if their assessment (remarkably, all the boycotters must be health care professionals who are trained in economics) is fact, rather than a very much disputed opinion.

If John Mackey suddenly recants, like Galileo, under the onslaught of this economic torture, will it further the goal of national health care? Not at all. Whole Foods is not a player in the health care system; the opinion of its CEO has no special impact, except to the extent that his argument is well-reasoned and persuasive. But the boycotters and their allies don’t respect argument or debate. They just know they are right, which means anyone who disagrees with them isn’t just wrong, he’s bad. They also know that it’s much easier to prevail in your views when those who might articulate adversarial views are afraid to speak out. That, ultimately, is what this boycott is about.

The boycott is aimed at stifling debate and suppressing opposing views. That makes it unethical. It is a violation of fairness, process, respect and the basics of citizenship. You can refuse to patronize a company that annoys you, or that has a leader whose views annoy you. When you organize a boycott, however, you are no longer expressing personal preference, but rather using the power of numbers as a weapon of vengeance and intimidation.

The Whole Foods boycott is an unethical boycott, and its website is an unethical website.

A final point: advocates of the Democrat’s health care reform plans have an obligation to use accurate figures, honest descriptions, plain language and strong logic to sell their reforms to the American people. Name-calling, demonization, scapegoating, and intimidation should have no part in the process. When a citizen like John Mackey plays by the rules of process and civility to express an opposing opinion, he deserves respect and a persuasive rebuttal, if there is one. When the response to an argument is “Shut up!,” it raises a legitimate question oft whether the other side can defeat the argument on its merits.

And consider yourself warned.




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