Boycotts are funny things. When it’s a small number of individuals railing against a company that refuses to pay corporation tax, say, not much happens. Enough people are still buying their books through Amazon, Googling for Caitlyn Jenner pictures and getting their caffeine fixes from Caffè Nero for these businesses not to notice. It’s partly my fault, because amid the tax storm I carried on using these firms, mainly as it was easier (also I am addicted to frappe lattes). If that makes me an unprincipled coward, then OK.
But when the tables are turned, and a company decides it’s going to boycott something, as Caffè Nero has done to milk suppliers from farms in Somerset and Gloucestershire – two counties where badger culling is taking place – then things get serious.
Nero, which has 600 high street coffee shops in the UK and its headquarters in Luxembourg, has caved into animal rights protesters after they threatened to storm cafés and hand out leaflets claiming that the company was using milk “tainted with badger blood”. The intimidation led the coffee chain to announce it will not source milk from farms inside the cull zone, and the animal rights campaigners, Stop The Cull, are jubilant. Next, they want to force Sainsbury’s to follow suit.
The effect of Nero’s boycott of Somerset and Gloucestershire milk could be punishing to farmers in those counties, whose livelihoods are already at risk because of the very reason the badger cull is taking place: the spread of tuberculosis through cattle.
If you took Stop The Cull’s arguments at face value, you would think the government action was a sort of bloodthirsty reimagining of fox hunting. But it isn’t: the badger cull is a science-driven containment of TB to stop the disease killing tens of thousands of cows. Yet I don’t think these campaigners want to understand the science – particularly given the work their fellow protesters carried out in threatening and intimidating research scientists who were working on cures for cancer and other diseases.
Do these campaigners care for all animals, or just badgers? They don’t seem to mind that cows are being killed by TB. What about hedgehogs? I only ask because on BBC2’s Springwatch on Monday night, viewers were told that part of the reason why the country’s population of hedgehogs is dying out is in part due to them being eaten by… badgers. What are the animal rights protesters going to do to save the hedgehog? Are they going to protest in fields, throwing up blockades by every hedge to stop badgers eating our spiny friends?
But while I find the protesters’ activities baffling, I am straightforwardly depressed by Nero’s decision. I wonder whether the chain spoke to the National Farmers’ Union before it implemented its boycott of milk, because the NFU says it is difficult to prove whether the supplies come from inside or outside the cull zone anyway. Beyond this ignorance, it is pure cowardice to give in to this sort of intimidation. What hope has any farmer, harassed and bullied by a fanatic on his or her own land, against this campaign when a major company like Nero gives in at the first whiff of trouble? I can understand a desire to want to protect its staff from abuse, but caving in just gives Stop The Cull licence to march into Sainsbury’s, as they have indicated they will.
Thankfully, Sainsbury’s have made it clear that they will not give in. The supermarket says it sources milk from across the UK and will continue to do so. Sainsbury’s will not penalise entire counties of farmers with what would be an economically damaging boycott. Likewise, Tesco and Morrison’s have also suggested they will not give in.
In my purse is a Nero loyalty card, half-full of stamps from all those frappe lattes and flat whites that I buy every day. I now feel challenged by the word “loyalty” in this context, because, along with my purchase, it is asking me to show allegiance to what is – was – my favourite coffee chain.
I cannot support a company that caves in to a mob, so I will be joining those farmers who are boycotting Nero over its decision. My loyalty card will go unstamped. Our boycott may not be as powerful or as damaging as Nero’s, but I believe it is the right thing to do.
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