The big student protests in Thailand have seen the rise of the hashtag “boycott 7-eleven on Wednesdays.” Twitter users say that Charoen Pokphand (CP), owner of Thai 7-eleven shops, belong to the pro-junta oligarchs and are the perpetrators of many bad things. Some of the tweeters’ claims are debatable. But if they can reduce the income of every branch in Thailand by only 1,000 baht per week, they say the chain can suffer a drop in income of 40 million baht per month. Some of them have also escalated the campaign to 30 days or every day and included other CP services of in the boycott.
After a series of student flashmobs to protest against Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, other groups have begun to follow suit. On International Women’s Day, labour unions and feminist groups called for an increase in the minimum wage, an extension of maternity leave, abortion rights, and constitutional amendments. After judge Khanakorn Pianchana committed suicide, citizens gathered to mourn his death and called for judicial reform. In the northeastern part of Thailand, 250 people in red shirts gathered to protest against the junta and said their democratic spirit remains the same. It seems the demonstrations in Thailand are encompassing an ever wider range of issues.
But some Thais also think that protests are not the only way to express themselves. A group of Twitter users is concerned that large demonstrations could provoke the authoritarian government into finding excuses for a double-dip coup or a military crackdown. Their concerns are understandable as there are precedents in Thai history. To prevent that from happening, they argue that Thai people should come up with other ways to fight. An alternative they propose is the idea of what they call a pause-mob, commonly known as an economic boycott.
To test the idea, twitter users have a shared target. The student protests saw a rise in the hashtags “pausemob” and “boycott 7-eleven on Wednesdays.” While they share their grievances and the reasons for the boycott, one twitter user estimates that if consumers make every branch lose 1,000 baht in income every week, the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), the oligarch which owns the 7-eleven shops, will lose 40 million baht per month. The goal is quite humble considering the fact that it had income of 335,532 million baht from 7-elevens in 2018.
The major reason to boycott 7-eleven shops every Wednesday is that CP is one of the main supporters of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. On 19 February, it started to spread online that a Twitter user "Niranam" was arrested for posting pictures and messages about King Vajiralongkorn. Police revealed that True Move H gave them the user's IP address. The Twitter users started to boycott True Move H's carrier service, but many were not aware that it is a telecommunication company which CP became the largest shareholder since 2012.
The anti-CP movement gained more momentum after Rangsiman Rome, a MP of the disbanded Future Forward Party, released information during the no-confidence motion on 27 February about Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation where Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, a deputy prime minister and the president of the foundation, received large donations from CP and other big corporates. In return, these companies get concessions to government lands and projects.
Before these CP has been already well known for profitting from an authoritarian government. In 2018, a CP-led consortium won the contract for a 224-billion-baht high-speed train project, linking the 2 international airports in Bangkok to U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. The project is a part of the Eastern Economic Corridor, the Special Economic Zone that would have been impossible without the special power of the coup leader, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who ruled with absolute power at the time.
In other words, CP is part of the Thai oligarchy. Today there are 11,700 7-eleven branches in Thailand. Their counterparts have only around 7,000, but they started to gain support from some of the tweeters who want to promote competition. But 7-eleven is just one part of the multinational corporate. CP have all kinds of things: food and agricultural products, retail and distribution, telecommunications and media, e-commerce, property, automotive and industrials, finance and investment. Two days ago, CP just won an auction to buy Tesco Lotus department stores in Thailand and Malaysia, fuelling Twitter users' anger.
Dhanin Chearavanont, the head of CP, is the richest man in Thailand and 45th richest in the world according to Forbes magazine.
Twitter users say that 7-eleven is destroying local shops. It is a legitimate concern that after the first 7-eleven was established in Thailand in 1989, local shops have become more vulnerable. A study by the Bank of Thailand last year showed that even though there are around 400,000 local shops, far more than the number of 7-elevens, their average income is ten times less than 7-elevens and their counterparts. Now Twitter users say they are starting to find more sense of joy in local shops and restaurants as they boycott 7-eleven. They also started a campaign to drop pins of local shops on Google Map and other applications.
— ธรรมดา (@lukkysone) March 5, 2020
A twitter user reported that a local shop has more customers during the campaign.
But some of their reasons are still debatable. A group of Twitter users have said they are boycotting 7-eleven because most of the time they do not offer plastic bags. Consumers may have the right to be angry as they see this as an excuse of the big corporates to cut costs and sell cloth bags. Similar initiatives can be seen in other big chain stores as they cooperate with the government to reduce plastic waste, but the 400,000 local shops do not follow this practice as the government finds it too inconvenient to talk to all of them. So, customers may find it more convenient, but environmentally irresponsible, to buy from local shops.
One can argue that the problem needs to be solved at the supply chain level and the big corporates should take the responsibility so that it does not hurt consumers. However, an effective response means also stopping all local shops from giving out plastic bags to produce less plastic waste. One way or another, the consumer still feels the impact and that can still include inconvenience.
Another debate around this boycott involves 7-eleven employees. Some argue they have suffered enough and the boycott may worsen their situation. According to CP’s statement, this year there are 170,000 employees working for 7-eleven shops nationwide after they created 30,000 more jobs last year. However, the official website of CP shows that from 2015-2018 around 30,000 employees resign every year for reasons it does not report.
One reason behind the resignations might be the salary and the business model. The 7-eleven employees earn from 9,000-20,000 baht per month, depending on a job position, types of shift work, and also whether they work directly under CP or the franchise owners. While CP directly own 45% of 7-elevens nationwide, 55% of them are franchises where CP collect royalties from their partners. The worst scenario for workers would be to work long hours during night shift in a part-time job under franchise owners who are exploitative by the nature of the business model.
The debate will be more controversial if the boycott is powerful enough to lead to lay-offs. One can argue that it will hurt the employees, but others can respond that it may help improve the situation for them in the long run. In consumerist culture, boycotting something for one day per week is not difficult, but also not easy. And it comes with a lot of ethical and political considerations to think of.
These are the reasons why Twitter users are boycotting 7-eleven. The last mystery is why on Wednesday? The answer is just that in Thai phonetic system there is no distinction between ‘v’ and ‘w’ sound, so the second syllable of 'seven' rhymes with the first syllable of 'Wednesday'. The word boycott is also replaced with the Thai word 'เว้น' ('wen') or 'skip.' So that's a three-word rhyme: เว้นเซเว่นทุกWednesday (wen sewen thuk wenzade). Whether you join the boycott is up to you.