CHOICE recently called for
a boycott of eggs that we believe are falsely labelled free range – including eggs from major brands like Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Pace Farms.
This was a big thing, and it was not something we did lightly. We know that a boycott can cause sustained damage to a brand, so we'd only do this where it is truly deserved.
But when it came down to it, the boycott on faux free-range eggs was a pretty easy decision for us.
When most consumers see the label 'free range', they understand it to mean that chickens actually go outside, and that they've got room to move inside and outside. That's the very impression that has been encouraged by big egg producers, who commonly put pictures on their cartons of chickens roaming in spacious pastures.
The problem is that an awful lot of eggs that are labelled free-range aren't produced in conditions that line up to that common understanding. And some of Australia's largest corporations are in on the swindle.
When it comes to such blatant and wide-ranging deception, a boycott is one of the few options left.
Boycotts are a powerful way to draw attention to a problem. They make choices simple. And consumers can make their own decisions about whether or not to participate, based on their own values.
Through this boycott, we hope to drive industry change, given that our governments have failed to protect consumers from misleading labelling. The big supermarket chains know that growing numbers of consumers care about how their eggs are produced. That's why they've made such a point of selling more 'free range' eggs. And when they're locked in such tight rivalry, they'll notice any dip in sales.
The value of this sort of boycott to consumers is explicitly recognised in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The Act bans some types of boycotts, but there is an explicit exemption for actions that are substantially about consumer or environmental protection. This recognises not only that consumers have a right to boycott, but that boycotts play a necessary role in the consumer protection landscape.
And in case you think boycotts are a creation of the late 20th century, think again. When former CHOICE staffer Gordon Renouf delivered the 2016 Ruby Hutchison Memorial Lecture on the topic of ethical consumption, he pointed out that boycotts stretch back at least as far as 18th-century England, when over 300,000 consumers boycotted sugar produced by slave labour.
Consumers have been taking power into their own hands for at least the last few centuries. And when governments fail to protect consumers from being ripped off, sometimes that's the only option left to us.