McKinsey & Company

McKinsey on Society


Voices The Socially Conscious Consumer

What's Your Q?

Global consumers have been flexing their purchasing muscles for political purposes since at least the 18th century. From the Boston Tea Party to Gandhi’s Salt March and today’s campaigns against conflict diamonds and fast food, we present highlights in the history of consumer activism and ask you to decide how you would have responded to each campaign. Based on your answers, we’ll tell you what kind of consumer you are.  Get Started
1773 1773
Boston Tea Party Disguised as Native Americans, radical American colonists board merchant ships and dump their cargo of imported tea into Boston Harbor. The action follows years of colonial unrest over the British Parliament’s imposition of a tea tax, which many reject on the grounds that the North American colonists had no representation in Parliament. Known as the Boston Tea Party, this act of civil disobedience sparks a broad consumer boycott of imported tea in North America and is followed three years later by the outbreak of the American Revolution.
1820s 1820s
Rum and Sugar Boycotts U.K. abolitionists revive a consumer movement to boycott slave-made rum and sugar from British colonies in the West Indies. In a precursor to today’s fair-trade initiatives, some shopkeepers post notices announcing that slaves were not involved in producing the sugar that they sell.
1930 1930
Gandhi's Nonviolent Resistance Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi launches a nonviolent resistance campaign against the British monopoly on salt and its associated tax. He leads 78 followers on a march to the Arabian Sea, where they produce their own salt in defiance of the tax. Gandhi’s march sparks a broad campaign of civil disobedience in which millions of Indians avoid the salt tax by making or buying illegal salt.
1970 1970
Mandatory Seat Belts The Australian state of Victoria passes the world’s first law making seat belts mandatory for motor-vehicle occupants. Since then, seatbelt laws have been credited with saving thousands of lives in countries around the world. Consumers are divided on the issue, with some supporting seat belt laws on health and safety grounds, while other oppose them as infringements of personal liberty.
1986 1986
Paul Simon's Graceland US musician Paul Simon releases his Graceland album - a collaboration with black South African musicians such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and General MD Shirinda. The album is a smash hit, but it sparks controversy because Simon violated a worldwide cultural boycott of the apartheid South African regime by traveling to Johannesburg for the recording sessions. Anti-apartheid activists picket Simon’s Graceland concert tour, urging consumers to boycott his music.
1997 1997
Fair-Trade To promote equity in international trade, Fairtrade international launches a worldwide association of producer networks and national labeling initiatives. Fair-Trade advocacy campaigns seek to improve labor conditions and secure rights for marginalized works by educating consumers about the social and ethical benefits of buying fair-trade certified goods.
2010s 2010s
Ivory Poaching Ivory poaching has reached critical levels across many African countries. Thousands of elephants and rhinos are slaughtered every year, with notorious armed guerillas — such as the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army — profiting from the trade. So long as demand remains strong, however, it will be difficult to stem the tide.

E-mail alerts

Get our latest knowledge emailed to you

Follow us