JOSEPH J. TOHILL
York University, Canada
Consumer activism is the collective use of consumer purchasing power for political ends. It encompasses a wide range of actions by people who make consumption choices (about products and producers) with the goal of changing market or institutional practices and/or influencing corporate and public policymakers. The ultimate goal of consumer activists is usually to create what they see as a socially just marketplace or to redress some form of inequality within capitalist societies. They are motivated by either a concern for the larger public welfare (e.g., a desire to stop the harmful effects of agricultural pesticides on public health), or narrower private or personal interests (such as the effects of such pesticides on their immediate family), or both.
Philosophically, consumer activism is premised on a belief that consumption is an inherently political act embedded in a complex web of economic and social relations. This belief establishes a framework and prescription for collective action that make use of the market power of consumers. At times, consumer activists have called on consumers to take action to assist a group to which they belong (e.g., early twentieth-century housewives' cost-of-living protests), but more often they call for action from consumers on behalf of others (as in fair trade and anti-sweatshop campaigns). Recognizing the connections between their choices as consumers ...