Will Boycotting Work?

Editor’s Desk

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The word “boycott” or “boikot” in Bahasa Malaysia has suddenly found a niche in the country’s predominantly Malay-Muslim community. It has been bandied about with words such as McDonald’s, Jewish and Palestine soon after Israel’s tanks and war planes swept into the Gaza Strip on a mission of destruction – the annihilation of Hamas.

Since the invasion by the Israeli army on July 8 calls to boycott companies that have dealings and connections with the Jewish state have found traction with Muslims all over the world, and Malaysia is no exception.

It is silly how some have considered boycotting as an option to address the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many are of the opinion that the war between the two opposing sides will never end, as both parties have no desire to “cease hostilities” no matter what happens. It is legitimacy for Hamas while to the Israelis keeping the Palestinians holed up in strip of land ensures their survivability as a nation.

Bearing the brunt of the Israeli onslaught is the country’s many McDonald’s franchises. There are over 200 McDonald’s outlets presently in Malaysia. They employ over 12,000 workers of which the majority are Muslims. Plans to increase the number of outlets to 500 are in the pipeline. This year McDonald’s has invested RM185 million to open 24 new restaurants and renovate 29.

The planned boycott of McDonald’s on Wednesday, August 8, was spurred by an online campaign on the Internet. It was to start from 7am to 7pm daily until Israel leaves Palestine. An outlet in Dungun and Kerteh, Terengganu suffered over 80 per cent losses due to the campaign largely through Facebook. Their workers were threatened with bodily harm and had to move around incognito.

The scene at a friend’s raya open house recently was similar although not in intensity. My host, a former army mate, was at his best explaining the benefits derived from boycotting American companies and American-made products and goods. The lemang and rendang seemed to have the better of him as his ramblings soon drifted to Esso/Mobil, Shell and ProJET. His reasoning, I gathered, was fuelled by fears of a possible petrol price hike coming our way. He recommended a boycott of these petrol stations.

ProJET, incidentally, is an American-owned petroleum company that became operational in Klang Valley in 1999. In 2007, Royal Dutch Shell PLC acquired all of ProJET stations and had them remodelled into Shell stations.

I told him that boycotting the petrol stations would not work as our petrol prices are being determined by the government. Moreover, Malaysia does not practise a free market economy like countries in the West. Prices of petrol and diesel are not being dictated by market forces but rather by subsidies provided by the government to keep prices affordable for Malaysians. The ones to suffer, should a boycott be instituted, would be the franchisees (the petrol pump owners) and end-users like you and me, to an extent.

The same applies to McDonald’s as is evidenced by the plunge in sales at the Dungun and Kerteh outlets. Owners of both outlets had pleaded with locals to reconsider their threat as it is detrimental to Malaysians themselves.

It took a while for him to comprehend my point of view but not without hesitation. There will be those who will blindly follow a dictate however silly it may be. They refuse to listen to reasoning believing that they are always right. Can we blame them?

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