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Boycott the boycotters!

By Gary Johns - posted Thursday, 25 November 2004


Australian Wool Innovation chairman Ian McLachlan has launched legal action against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA is a radical NGO. According to its website, it believes "that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment".

It is campaigning against the Australian sheep and wool industry for its live sheep exports and the practice of mulesing. AWI is seeking a Federal Court order restraining PETA from threatening clothing retailers in order to get them to boycott Australian wool. PETA has apparently "convinced" US retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to boycott Australian wool.

Well, Ian, if that doesn't work, here is another suggestion: organise a counterattack. Boycott the boycotters. In this case, boycott Abercrombie & Fitch. This will not be too difficult, because A&F has already suffered a boycott of its own.

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A&F is a boutique clothing company that is part of the "strong sensitivity and concern for social responsibility and ethical dealings" crowd. But a conservative American NGO, American Decency, has been campaigning against the use of pornography by A&F to sell its wares. My oh my, that is an ethical dilemma for ethical investors.

A&F's latest catalogue, A Little Naughty Can Do a Lot of Nice, features beautiful young preppy men and women posing semi-nude, with body hair removed and enough "product" in their hair to gum up the waterways. The deal is that if you drop into their store for Christmas, you can have your photo taken with "one of our great looking, hotter than hot, in-store brand representatives". A&F will give a matching dollar donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This mixture of sex and conspicuous compassion has earned the firm some bad reviews.

The much cleaned version of A&F's catalogue follows a campaign by American Decency and others against the 2003 catalogue, which included nude young adult models in highly suggestive poses, as well as advice on sex - apparently intended to boost the brand among university-age customers.

For example - Question: "My friend told me that if you're 500 miles away from your boyfriend and you fool around with someone, it's not really cheating. Can I get confirmation on this rule?"

A&F: "If you just saw your boyfriend yesterday, then you're a bad girl. If you haven't seen him in six months, then PLEASE be a bad girl."

After protests, the retailer recalled the catalogue, saying "it needed the space on the counter for a new perfume". Is that an ethical lie?

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A&F clothes are sold in Australia, perhaps Family First senator, Steve Fielding, can identify stores in Australia that sell this stuff. By the way, senator, "Ditch Fitch" T-shirts are available at www.americandecency.org.

If all this seems a bit far-fetched, it serves to illustrate that the game of blackmailing companies can be turned around. If you don't think A&F deserves it, then maybe you have different morals from those offended by such advertising. More important, you will not fail to be offended by PETA. Try these choice abstracts from one of its principals.

PETA's director of "vegan outreach", Bruce Friedrich, has been quoted complaining about meat being served at the 2004 World Social Forum, "It's like letting the World Bank or the Ku Klux Klan open up a booth here". According to Consumer Freedom, Friedrich believes sport hunters should be viewed "with the same revulsion we presently reserve for Nazi doctors and slave traders".

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First published in The Australian on November 23, 2004.



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About the Author

Gary Johns is a fellow of the Australian Institute for Progress and an adjunct professor at QUT.

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