Price hikes of essential food items are a common occurrence in Pakistan during Ramzan every year. While people call out this phenomenon openly, it is the first time that the resentment has led to a countrywide boycott of fruit sellers.
The boycott started after a concentrated social media campaign spurred by Whatsapp messages that implored people not to buy ‘overpriced’ fruits in the market.
Titled ‘jihad against fruit prices’ and ‘Important information’, the messages started circulating on Whatsapp. They asked everyone to stop buying fruit and force the retailers to reduce their rates.
Soon social media picked up the issue and for the first time, these messages took an organized form and called for a boycott of those selling fruits at an exorbitant rate, between 2-4 June 2017.
The campaign started initially in Karachi, but has now morphed into a countrywide event.
There’s even a Facebook event page for the boycott now and the message is being spread through all means of communication.
Despite wide support for the boycott, there’s a large segment which is against it and have voiced their concerns. Some say that people will simply buy three days’ worth of fruits before the boycott or that this boycott will only hurt the street sellers, while the supporters claim that a step like this is needed to put an end to this mafia once and for all.
There are two angles to this – both for and against – this campaign of boycotting fruit sellers. We’re going to go in-depth with both of the sides so that people are better informed about the whole situation.
The View from those Who Support the Boycott
Consumer rights groups across the country are saying that a fruit boycott will hurt the sellers who are looking for premium price sales during the weekend. Since most of the people buy household groceries on weekends, the sellers will have to notice and mend their ways.
The Pro-Boycott campaign says that it isn’t just a single person who is affected, and that when the public unites they can do anything. It is the consumer who can force the seller to agree to their demands.
Supporters say that even if someone can afford fruits at premium rates, they have a duty towards the society and their fellow countrymen and should raise their voice for the poor who cannot even buy fruits for their family.
This has led the people to share the message with friends on social media, eventually leading to the boycott. Even the Commissioner of Karachi, Ejaz Ahmed Khan, has extended his support for the boycott and asked the citizens to refrain from buying fruit and take the matter into their own hands since the government cannot control the mandi mafia.
Supporters argue that through this boycott, any party which is robbing the citizens in broad daylight is bound to get hurt. Whether it’s the producers, middlemen or the end retailers, eventually the boycott will dent the source of the mafia and they will refrain from overcharging customers.
At the same time, people are also questioning the hypocrisy of saving a few hundred rupees on fruits while named brands and restaurants charge obscene markups on items and get away without a single complaint. If a protest is to be organized, they ask, why isn’t it against the 400% markup lawn suit sold by brands who don’t give their employees a living wage or the restaurant selling a deal for two for over Rs. 5000?
Arguments Against the Boycott
Since yesterday, messages against the boycott have started making rounds on social media too. Arguments from those against the boycott state that the public needs to understand that this act is meaningless and will hurt the poor, while at the same time the real masterminds will continue to make profits.
Such messages quote the logistics of the market. They cite the fact that farms are owned by landlords who sell the fruit to middlemen days before it reaches the market. The middlemen buy it at a certain price, transport it and sell it to wholesalers at the mandi who grade and price it. Up until this stage, each party can set their own rates. Eventually, the seller or pushcart vendor buys the fruit from the wholesalers, investing all of their income into it.
The price that the consumers get at the end is decided days before the fruit even reaches the market and it’s beyond the control of the wholesalers or the fruit vendors but through this boycott, we would be hurting the poor pushcart seller or small shop owners while the real culprits would already have made all the money beforehand.
It is indeed true that shop owners and small-time sellers only make small profits from these sales and some barely make enough to feed their families. A boycott such as this will obviously hurt the sellers and wholesalers whose investment would be wasted. People should be mindful that fruits are perishable goods and need to be sold off soon.
On the other hand, it will stop the buying cycle eventually forcing the producers and the middlemen to stop their sales for a day or two. In the end, however, it may not even affect the fortunes of the real culprits i.e. the mafia, middlemen and the land owners.
There’s another point to ponder. In the whole world, even in non-Muslim countries, there’s Ramzan discounts for food items, the opposite is witnessed in Pakistan. Everything from fruits to essential household items become more expensive. The government and other regulatory authorities fail to implement fixed prices and it’s the citizens that suffer at the end.
In the end, there are both legitimate arguments for and against the fruit seller boycott. As consumers, it is up to us to exercise our choice. Would you be lending your support to the boycott? Or would you rather support those who are selling fruits in your area out of necessity and/or helping those who are less fortunate than us? Let us know in the comments below.