The new St Cross Special Ethics Seminars are jointly arranged by the Oxford Uehiro Centre and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.
Title: #StopHateForProfit and the Ethics of Boycotting by Corporations
Speaker: Dr Theodore M. Lechterman (Research Fellow, Institute for Ethics in AI, University of Oxford)
Ted Lechterman holds research fellowships at the Institute for Ethics in AI and Wolfson College. His research investigates what makes democracy valuable and how that value applies to different practices and agents. His current work considers the challenges and opportunities that artificial intelligence creates for the realization of democratic ideals. He has also written extensively on how democratic values apply to private initiatives to promote the public good. His first book, The Tyranny of Generosity: Why Philanthropy Corrupts Our Politics and How We Can Fix It, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Lechterman was trained at Harvard and Princeton and has held postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford, Goethe-Universität, and the Hertie School. He regularly advises organizations and contributes to public debates in North America and Europe.
In June 2020, numerous companies that advertise on social media platforms withdrew their business, citing failures of the platforms (especially Facebook) to address the proliferation of harmful content. Many were inspired by the #StopHateForProfit campaign initiated by the Anti-Defamation League. These events invite reflection on an understudied topic: the ethics of boycotting by corporations. Under what conditions is corporate boycotting permissible, required, supererogatory, or forbidden? Although value-driven consumerism has generated significant recent discussion in applied ethics, that discussion has focused almost exclusively on the consumption choices of individuals. As this paper underscores, value-driven consumerism by business corporations complicates these issues and invites further research.
The paper argues that corporate boycotts represent extra-democratic tactics and, as such, should be undertaken only in exceptional circumstances and with specific constraints. However, there are at least certain cases where corporate boycotts appear to be morally required. These conclusions put pressure on prominent theories of corporate social responsibility, which either make no space for corporate boycotts or fail to demarcate that space. The paper also contributes to debates over how to hold social media platforms accountable.