Feb 21 Making little headway on the streets,
protesters in Thailand trying to oust the government have opened
a new front, targeting companies tied to Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra's family and using social media to drive the effort.
Calls for a boycott broadcast at rallies and spread via
Facebook and other social media had an immediate and striking
impact this week: shares of a property developer controlled by
the Shinawatras and a handset distributor with links to the
family plunged by about 10 percent over three
It is too early to tell what the impact will be on those
companies' sales and profits but fears that they will be hit
have already wiped out about billion dollars of the value of
firms seen as associated with Yingluck and her brother, former
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Company boycotts are nothing new. Neither is the use of
social media and texting to organise boycotts or rally
supporters to political causes.
What appears new is how the rallying cry of anti-government
protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban - "If you love your country,
stop using Shinawatra products" - is bringing that together and
turning the prospect of a boycott, usually a tool of advocacy or
consumer groups, into a potent weapon in political conflict.
This week, responding to a call by Suthep posted on a
Facebook page, hundreds of people showed up to disrupt business
at a service centre of a mobile affiliate of telecoms group Shin
Corp, founded by Thaksin before he entered politics.
Shin Corp says the company no longer has any connection with the
"I've never seen that before. What we've seen is boycotts of
companies based in a particular country. The classic example is
the South Africa boycott that went on for many years during the
apartheid era," said Daniel Diermeier, professor at the
Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
More recently, Danish companies were targeted in protests
over cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammad published in a
Danish newspaper in 2005.
"But the targeting of companies because they are affiliated
to or owned by government officials? I haven't seen that," said
Diermeier who has published a book on managing corporate
reputation risks and has written on company boycotts and the
role of social media.
BOTH SIDES CAN PLAY
In terms of its political impact, it remains to be seen how
the assault on the Shinawatra family's business interests will
play out. Her party's spokesman dismissed it but the campaign at
least adds to a perception that Yingluck is becoming
Kasem Prunratanamala, head of research at CIMB Securities in
Bangkok, was sceptical and also critical, comparing the tactic
to the invasion of someone's home privacy.
"The fall in share prices should be short-term and investors
should look at fundamentals of the companies. This is just a
temporary issue," Kasem said.
It is also a game both sides can play.
The anti-government camp intent on ousting Yingluck and
ending the influence of her self-exiled brother represents the
Bangkok-based establishment: the royalist bureaucracy, the army
and old-money families, many with business interests that would
be highly vulnerable to the same tactic.
Indeed, the more numerous Shinawatra camp - Thaksin and his
parties have won every election since 2001 - could be expected
to pack a more effective punch when it comes to boycotts.
Many drinkers in Thaksin's northern and northeastern
heartlands stopped drinking Singha beer when Chitpas
Bhirombhakdi, whose family owns the Boon Rawd Brewery that makes
the beer, emerged in the media and social media late last year
as an ardent anti-Thaksin campaigner.
The hostility between the camps gives such campaigns an
emotional dimension, the targets are often specific and easily
substituted and social media whips up awareness.
"These innovations? They spread. Once people figure out a
new way to do this and they have an impact, they spread,"
"The use of commercial boycotts against companies for
political purposes? I would think that could be replicated
(Additional reporting by Vidya Ranganathan; Writing by Tomasz
Janowski; Editing by Robert Birsel)