Today there has been a call to boycott high-street store Boots for their extortionate pricing of the morning after pill. With Tesco and Superdrug (as well as local chemists) selling it much cheaper, people have demanded a justification for Boot’s high prices, and their answer has chilled women everywhere. “We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product”, says the chain.
This is a feminist issue, a class issue, a social order issue. The Boots response to their pricing plan is outdated and devalues the autonomy of the woman and her male partner (after all, gay women do not require contraceptives, only barriers to prevent STDs) and infers that with the ability to pay comes responsibility. But you can read about this in all of the papers.
More disturbingly for me is Boots’ relationship with the NHS. Whilst the conglomerate dictates to us how we should be viewing women who take Emergency Contraception, it rakes in millions of pounds a year from prescriptions and pharmacy products. As it refuses to lower its price, we begin to understand how prescription services would work without the flat £8.60 per item (or free for children, pensioners, ex-soldiers, inpatients and the registered disabled) the NHS gives us – and we should be appalled by this potential vision of the future. We see that Boots views us – not just women, but all of us – as customers before people, and not even as valued customers but as possible cash cows. Until now they have been protected by market pricing and lack of public knowledge, but as the media net closes in over them the company’s actions are in for widespread condemnation. Probably even more widespread and vocal than the complaints they anticipated in their statement.
I’ve been boycotting Boots for over a year now, for their relationship with tax, and I can tell you it’s much easier than I thought it would be: I’ve gone from someone who bought makeup, toiletries, snacks, medication and accessories ranging from travel plugs to tights in there, who popped in there to conveniently exchange their goods for a bit of my dollar nearly every day and who was doggedly loyal to their Advantage Card scheme, to somebody who hasn’t set foot in a Boots for over a year. Once in that time it has become an issue: I was elsewhere in the UK and needed makeup remover because I had forgotten mine, but an ordinary (albeit larger than local) supermarket came to my rescue. That is why I believe that a customer boycott will be an effective pressure on this particular high-street retailer. Not only is there a direct competitor whose reasonably-priced alternatives can easily replace Boots’ wares, but also because ordinary supermarkets charge similar or lower prices for the same things. If we stop going to Boots, we will not become deodorant-shunning, Goop-reading snowflakes. We can keep all the conveniences we’re used to at the prices we’re used to whilst we bypass this high-street parasite.
If public opinion really is the problem, Boots will lower the price of Emergency Contraception, but it has gone beyond that now. We should be boycotting Boots because of their attitudes to not only women but all sexually active people, all people in need of healthcare (which, after all, is everyone at some point or another) and all people who need financial aid to access services. This is all of us, and we are all far more instrumental in creating a harmonious and dynamic society than one company that behaves like shit.