America is seething over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with most of the rage directed at oil giant BP. A "Boycott BP" page on Facebook, one of many similar web pages, now has more fans than President Obama. But some commentators are questioning whether a consumer boycott of BP gas stations might not prove futile — or even backfire. Does this sort of protest accomplish anything? (Watch a local report about Americans boycotting BP)
Boycotting is arguably effective: A boycott "hits the company and its stockholders where it really hurts," says Chris Churchill in the Albany, N.Y., Times-Union. If enough people take their business elsewhere, maybe BP will get the message and "act more responsibly and carefully in the future." At least it will help consumers feel like they’re "doing something to make their helplessness and anger known."
"Should consumers boycott BP?"
A BP boycott may be emotionally satisfying, but it's futile: Before you boycott BP, says Sharon Begley in Newsweek, "pick which malefactor or criminal — environmental or human — you’d like to support when you gas up." Exxon, which was responsible for the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989? Texaco, which is being sued for contaminating groundwater in Ecuador? Or maybe Citgo, which is in the clutches of Venezuelan "petro-dictator" Hugo Chavez. An oil boycott, you see, is "emotionally satisfying but ultimately futile," because it only diverts business to companies that have their own shortcomings.
Punishing BP could make matters worse: If enough people shun BP gas stations and take their business elsewhere, the company could start "losing money to the point where it could not fund the clean-up," says John C. Ogg in 24/7 Wall St. If you want to punish BP, be patient. There will be plenty of time to let the oil giant know how you feel after the underwater oil gusher is plugged, and BP has paid the bill for mopping up the Gulf of Mexico.
"The dangers of a BP boycott today rather than tomorrow"
A boycott won't hurt BP: There are more than 9,000 BP stations in the U.S., say Leonora LaPeter Anton and Ben Montgomery in the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times, but they're owned by individual franchisees — not BP itself — and the owners may not even be buying their fuel from a BP refinery. So a boycott will only hurt "people who have paid BP for the right to use the name." Go ahead and boycott, but don't expect BP to feel the pinch.
"Boycott won't hurt BP's bottom line"