Thai Businesses Forced to Take a Political Stance

Courtesy of Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Written by BB Jiruppabha

Pro-democracy supporters in Thailand are boycotting businesses that support Nation Multimedia Group, a medium widely perceived to be pro-government. Roughly 25 sponsors of Nation TV, including the food delivery service Food Panda, hospitality group Minor International, and insurance company Muang Thai Life, faced pressure to choose between halting advertisement on Nation TV and facing repercussions from the boycott. The situation in Thailand serves to illustrate a global trend toward the expectation that private firms should take strong political stances.

The ongoing Thai protests, beginning in February 2020, were triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party coupled with increasing distrust in the military government, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha. Although the protests slowed during the pandemic, they later gained momentum when pro-democracy protestors, mainly college students and young adults, demanded the dissolution of the military government in tandem with reforms of the monarchy system. 

In late August, student-led protestors started an online campaign to boycott Nation TV. Nation Multimedia Group was taken over by Chai Bunnag, whose wife Watanya Wongopasi serves as a member of the parliament in the PM’s Palang Pracharuth Party, vindicating the viewpoint that Nation is inextricably linked with the government. Tensions between Nation and pro-democracy supporters escalated when Nation TV reporters lied about their identities in order to interview a group of student supporters at the Democracy Monument on August 16. This disregard for journalistic ethics coupled with the pro-government perspectives that Nation presents led to the banning of Nation and its sponsors. Nation’s sponsors were “canceled”. The hashtags #แบนเนชั่น – banning Nation – as well as  #แบนสปอนเซอร์เนชั่น – banning sponsors of Nation – quickly began trending on Twitter.

On Twitter, the pro-democracy users urged others to stop purchasing products from Nation’s sponsors, with the goal being to induce Nation to adopt a more neutral standpoint. Such sponsors include Unilever and Osotspa, Central Group, the food conglomerate CP Group, Vitamin Water Yanhee, Pizza Company, and more. 

Following the boycott against Nation sponsors, Minor Food’s shares fell 0.45% in late August while the stock benchmark increased by 0.44%. Despite negative consequences, Minor stated that it would review its decision to choose Nation as its media while many firms outright denied involvement with the media group. On the other hand, Muang Thai Life and Food Panda said that they would suspend their advertisements on Nation TV, altering course to accommodate opposition. 

These events demonstrate the present reality, that firms can no longer view their political standpoint as separate from their business. Rather, corporate political expression is necessarily a component brand image, reputation, and overall character; all of which play a role in the consumer decision-making process, especially among young consumers. Cancel culture and boycotts within Thai society raise the question as to the consequences that businesses now face when they neglect to take a political stance. This is not happening only within Thai society; cancel culture and boycotts are now expanding worldwide with increasing prominence.

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