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Boycotts work! Are you boycotting Loblaws?

What’s up with the Loblaws boycott? 

Since May 1, people across the country have been boycotting Loblaws and any affiliated grocery stores as a part of a month-long #BoycottLoblaws campaign. This is a movement that’s uniting people around their shared anger and despair about the skyrocketing price of groceries, to demand government policies that rein in corporate power and address the growing cost-of-living crisis. 

Why #boycottLoblaws? 

The Loblaws boycott originated on Reddit, on a subreddit or channel called r/loblawsisoutofcontrol a place for people to post outrageous prices for groceries at their local Loblaws-run chain store. This later evolved into a month-long boycott of all Loblaws-owned stores, like No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, with a list of evolving demands, which you can find here. There also options for taking action for those unable to stop shopping at Loblaws-owned stores, including getting in touch with the Loblaws’ customer service department.  

The movement also encourages Canadians to reach out to their MPs to demand proper regulation of the grocery industry, including addressing monopolies within the space, and price caps across the big five grocers who control 75% of the grocery market: Loblaws, Sobeys, Costco, Walmart and Metro. 

The boycott is already having an effect. Small and nonprofit grocers are reporting a boost in their number of customers – and Loblaws CEO Per Bank held a meeting with one of the main organizers.

Loblaws bread price-fixing scandal that was revealed in 2017.

Loblaws owns nearly one-third of the grocery market, but it wasn’t always that way. As recently as 1986, there were eight large grocery chains in Canada and many independent grocers. However, the Competition Bureau and Competition Act have done little to prevent larger companies from buying up smaller companies and independent grocers slowly and methodically over the last 40 years. Now that five companies effectively have a monopoly on groceries in Canada, they have the power to set prices – and it’s very hard for smaller grocers to compete.  

The Loblaws bread price-fixing scandal that was revealed in 2017 is a clear example of the danger of monopolies. Loblaws and other large grocery companies allegedly worked together for several years to artificially raise the price of bread, to increase their profits. There is an ongoing investigation into this price-fixing by the Competition Bureau, and while Loblaws apologized publicly, the corporation has not faced any material or legal consequences for this scandal. This is a clear indication that our competition laws and enforcement mechanisms need to be a lot stronger to put people’s needs over the profits of corporations.  

Why #BoycottLoblaws is a powerful response to corporate power 

If you venture into the r/loblawsisoutofcontrol Reddit, you’ll find people across the political spectrum uniting around one thing: anger at corporate greed. 

Creating a space where people can share their anger about a clear injustice, and take action in a way that directly channels that anger, has been very effective. Even though not everyone in the boycott movement agrees with all of the demands put together by the Reddit moderators, the community is overwhelmingly united in their anger against companies like Loblaws and are willing to boycott to demonstrate that anger and push for change. 

That change could take many possible forms. Various media outlets have reported on #BoycottLoblaws, bringing in experts who state that it’s unlikely that this movement will result in changes to Loblaws’ pricing. But that’s never been the point – the moderators of r/loblawsisoutofcontrol have publicly noted that the issues they’re raising extend to all five big grocers. They’re only targeting Loblaws, they say, because the company’s close association with Galen Weston Jr. makes it so easy to villainize.  

Participants in the boycott are aware of the complexity of the cost-of-living crisis. On the various social media platforms, you’ll find discussion ranging from outrage over Loblaws’ prices, to demands for government regulation around the grocery industry, to the importance of focussing on the true corporate culprits of the crisis.  

The #BoycottLoblaws movement is about so much more than a set of demands on one corporation – it is about demonstrating who the corporate villains are as so many of people in Canada struggle to afford basic necessities; it is highlighting community grocery alternatives; and it’s turning up the heat on politicians to curb corporate power. Which begs the question: 

Who is the Council of Canadians? 

The Council of Canadians has been fighting corporate power and control for almost 40 years.  

We’ve shut down pipelines. We’ve beat back corporations trying to steal our water. We’ve fought to protect our public health care system. And we’ve mobilized tens of thousands of people in chapters across the country to build people power and collective action. Join us! 

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Chris Kruszewski

Chris Kruszewski

Chris Kruszewski is a Climate and Social Justice Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.