10.11.2023 Author: Taut Bataut

The Power of Boycotting

The Power of Boycotting

As countless times before, the renewed eruption of conflict in Israel and Palestine has polarised the world. Though many try to tread the line and call for diplomatic solutions to minimise the loss of human life, most take a side. In such an environment, most states take such a position and pledge support to either one side or the other, but increasingly, corporations have begun to take this role too.

Amidst the conflict, the Israeli branches of the worldwide American fast-food chain McDonald’s began donating thousands of free meals to soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces, thanking them for their service in defending “the state, hospitals, and surrounding areas.” In response, McDonald’s branches in Muslim-majority countries all over the Middle East came under attack not just on social media but also physical attack, such as in Egypt and Türkiye. McDonald’s Saudi Arabia, McDonald’s Oman and McDonald’s Qatar took to their social media handles to announce that they were in no way affiliated with the Israeli franchises, and posted messages of solidarity with Palestine and organised donations to affected Gazans.

Whilst McDonald’s headquarters in the United States refuse to comment, protestors in numerous countries have called for the boycotting of the brand name given the Israeli edition’s support of the atrocities perpetrated by the IDF in Gaza and the West Bank. Debates over the action have raged all over social media, with massive confusion and moral dilemmas. Calls for the boycott of McDonald’s and of other corporations involved in supporting Israel (such as Puma, Carrefour, Disney and Coca-Cola, to name a few) have gone up globally, even by people in countries whose governments support the Israeli position. These corporations have been involved in the donation of meals and funds to the IDF and Israeli citizens amidst the conflict, and/or have issued statements condemning the attacks by Hamas while remaining silent on the actions of the IDF.

In this environment, it is useful to revisit the concept of boycotting itself, and whether it has the power to affect the situation in Palestine in any way.

The nature of corporations today is that their overseas branches are increasingly franchises rather than outlets. This means that each country usually has its own body or company that owns the rights to use a particular corporation’s branding and material for use within different countries, and in return must conform to certain standards and guidelines, and pay a portion of their earnings to the parent company for the use of their license. Each country’s franchise has limited autonomy, but is largely able to pursue its own marketing strategies in addition to global ones issued by the parent company.

As such, many have said that boycotting McDonald’s in Muslim-majority countries, or in any country outside Israel; would have little to no impact on the actions of McDonald’s in Israel. Refusing to purchase items from McDonald’s in Pakistan, such arguments go, would only hurt the Pakistani businesses handling McDonald’s and its employees, and reduce foreign investment’s confidence in the country.

Another argument against boycotting is that boycotting in countries that are not major markets is perfunctory at best, given the limited impact it can have. The McDonald’s corporation’s revenues were equal to nearly $200 billion in 2023, but McDonald’s Pakistan’s revenues barely crossed the $100 million mark. Even if the boycott was complete and revenues from Pakistan flowing to McDonald’s dried up, it wouldn’t impact global revenues by even half a percent.

These arguments, while true, do not account for some of the intended outcome of boycotts, even whilst recognising that corporations’ franchises are held locally and that boycotting affects them first.

Firstly, boycotts are not intended to be solitary actions, carried out in isolation. The power of boycotting lies in co-ordinated, widespread implementation. While a boycott against McDonald’s in just Pakistan might be un-impactful, co-ordinating it with boycotts in other countries worldwide would put a significant dent in the corporation’s earnings.

Secondly, boycotts are also essentially declarations of the strength of public opinion, manifested through the refusal to engage in business with an organisation or entity that supports an opposite view or paradigm.

Therefore, a boycott against McDonald’s or Carrefour or Disney is intended to signal to these corporations through widespread demonstration of public opinion and the erosion of their earning mechanisms that the actions carried out by them or an entity acting under their name are unacceptable to the vast majority. In such a situation, the hope is that these corporations are forced to change their stance or enforce stricter rules preventing their subsidiaries from doing what McDonald’s Israel has done, for example.

Nevertheless, the greater question of the power of boycotts still remains. The real issue of support to the IDF, for example, is not through the donation of free meals to its soldiers but the greater international – states-led – support for the Israeli government and its security apparatus. Even if the McDonald’s Corporation were to (unimaginably) force its Israeli franchises to stop these donations, global arms sales and military aid continue to flow to Israel. It is not Big Macs that are killing Palestinians in Gaza, but bullets, bombs and missiles. Boycotts can do little to change that.


Taut Bataut – is a researcher and writer that publishes on South Asian geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine  “New Eastern Outlook”.

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