Aimin Yan discusses the Olympic protests, boycotts, and negotiations

in Global Work, Organizational Behavior, SMG Hot Topics
March 15th, 2010

Aimin YanAimin Yan, Faculty Director of the International Management Program and Professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University School of Management, addresses the protests of the Beijing Olympics.  Here, he compares strategies of business negotiation and corporate boycotting to shed light on his opinion of the protests’ efficacy:

A Game That Has No Winners

“Protests” and “boycotts” are two most frequently read words in recent reports about the Beijing Olympics. The Beijing government was fiercely ambitious to showcase the fast Chinese economic miracle to the world.  They thoroughly enjoyed the glory until recently, when they began facing the widely spread protests. In addition to other costs–economic and political–they have lost face, which is extremely important in the Chinese culture.

But now it’s the turn for the multinational companies to lose, as a result of boycotts of their products by Chinese citizens.  They started with Carrefour and Body Shop but will target more companies.  In fact, there are at least two other groups that have suffered no less significantly.  That is, the Olympic athletes from all over the world and the equally widespread sports fans.  To many athletes, this is a game they have waited for their whole lives to play; to others, it’s a last chance at the Olympics during their lifetimes.  These athletes don’t want to go to a tainted event.

For the sports loving public, the costs are less visible but significant: many have begun to lose their interest in the Olympics altogether.  Some have argued to get rid of the Games.  Arguably, these are the two groups that have the largest stakes but feel quite helpless.  For both the athletes and the public, someone is gambling with their money.  Finally, the protests are not costless to the protesters, either.  The boat is rocked.  They are losing, if they’ve not already lost, the most effective channel to leverage their direct influence on China.  If they don’t see this now, they will find it soon after the Games.

In business and international politics alike, the best negotiators are not those who bargain hard or threat the most, but those who trade well.  For a trade to happen, you got to know what you want and what they want.  If you work hard to block them from getting what they want, they will work even harder not to let you get what you want.  The net outcome?  It’s a game that has no winners.  You all lose.

Enough is enough about protests and boycotts for all the parties involved.

Email Professor Yan and let him know your opinion, or read more about his view on the Olympic protests from BU Today’s April 25, 2008, article “Is the World Against China?”