Boycott Ethics: North Carolina HB2, the NBA All-Star Game, and Collateral Damage

business_ethics_highlights_2Boycotts have interesting features that make the ethics of pursuing them tricky. Boycotts are typically aimed at institutions (e.g., business firms, organizations, political states), but are motivated by (perceived or actual) intentional wrongs. That fact creates some slippage between the people who have the relevant intentions and the people who are (or end up being) targets of the boycott.

Take, for example, the boycott of the U.S. state of North Carolina over its controversial HB2 “bathroom bill” law. In the linked article, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announces that it is relocating the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina to another (non-North Carolina) city because of “the climate created by HB2.” In other words, the NBA is at least implying that it is joining the North Carolina boycott.

But note that by boycotting North Carolina in this instance, the NBA is also – and more directly – boycotting Charlotte. HB2 was passed by the North Carolina legislature specifically to overturn a Charlotte city ordinance that “had extended some rights to people who are gay or transgender.” Thus, in effect, pro-LGBT Charlotte is being boycotted by non-North Carolinians who oppose the anti-LGBT HB2.

This raises a couple of interesting questions about boycott ethics:

(1) When boycotting political jurisdictions in protest of a democratic political outcome, is it right to treat every resident (person, firm, organization) of the jurisdiction as if they support that outcome? Folk democratic political theory encourages us to treat democratic political outcomes as the “will of the people” and thus as an expression of their views, intentions, and values. But if HB2 is rightly understood as the will of the people of North Carolina, then by parity of reasoning ought not the Charlotte city ordinance also be understood as the will of the people of Charlotte? If so, is it perverse to boycott Charlotte arenas, hotels, and restaurants for anti-LGBT sentiments that, under this folk-democratic will-of-the-people theory, they don’t hold?

(2) The first question illustrates an important fact about boycotts: they are blunt instruments of protest and of effectuating social change. It is probably impossible to devise a boycott that will hit all and only the people whose intentions one opposes. (For example, the union-led Coors boycott of the 1970s and 1980s also affected negatively Coors employees who favored unionization. The boycott almost certainly couldn’t have been conducted in a way that avoided setting back those employees’ interests, consistent with maintaining an effective boycott against Coors’ anti-union management and ownership.) From the unavoidable fact of their bluntness, does it follow that those who launch and practice boycotts have no ethical duty to minimize a boycott’s collateral damage to those people who are not its proper objects? If boycotters have some ethical duty to make reasonable efforts to minimize collateral damage, what actions might discharge that duty? (For example, should North Carolina HB2 boycotters consult the North Carolina House and Senate rollcall votes on HB2 to determine whose representatives favored and opposed the measure, and limit their boycott to districts whose representatives voted ‘yea’ on HB2?)
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LINK: NBA pulls 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte over HB2 law (by Sports Illustrated Wire)

The NBA has pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the league announced Thursday.

New Orleans has emerged as the favorite to be the new host, reports The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The league said in a statement it hopes to hold the game in North Carolina in 2019.

The NBA held discussions about moving the game in the wake of North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” legislation passed earlier this year that has been criticized as anti-LGBT. Formally known as House Bill 2, the law forces transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate.

“Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community—current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans,” the league said in a statement. “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.”

What do you think?


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