A refusal to deal or use the products or services of a particular person or company.
The origin of the term lies in Irish land disputes and political history. Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897) was, in 1880, the land agent of the Earl of Erne in County Mayo, Ireland, responsible for collecting rents and evicting tenants. The Earl was unpopular because he was an absentee landowner who lived in England, off rents derived from his Irish estates. The leading Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell, at that time an advocate of land reform, proposed a policy under which landlords who raised rents to unreasonable levels and then refused to lower them, or any tenant who took over the farm of a tenant evicted because he could not afford them, would be given the complete “cold shoulder” by all other local residents (who for the most part were also tenants), while businesses that did business with such persons would similarly be shunned.
Lord Erne refused to allow Boycott to lower rents and he continued to evict tenants. Parnell’s Irish Land League then orchestrated the shunning (ostracism) of Boycott and his family, who soon found themselves without servants, farmhands, mail, or shops that would serve them. Boycott’s situation then became somewhat of a cause célèbre in England, with troops being sent to bring in his harvest. This provoked the Land League to use him as an example. Ultimately defeated, Boycott left Ireland, but due to the widespread publicity surrounding his case, the name of Boycott was rapidly adopted in numerous languages as meaning an orchestrated refusal to deal with a person or business. Many historians today regard Boycott as a somewhat unfortunate and tragic figure.
Group Boycotts are potentially illegal under competition law and should be carefully considered. Some limited exceptions do exist to the prohibition of collective blacklisting, for example insurance companies have generally succeeded in defending collective black lists of property owners whose buildings have repeatedly burned down in unexplained circumstances.