Muslim boycotts of Danish products costly
Updated: 2006-02-17 09:12
Consumer boycotts of Danish goods in Muslim countries in protest of the
publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are costing Denmark's
companies millions, and have raised fears of irreparable damage to trade ties.
From Havarti cheese to Lego toys, Danish products have been yanked off the
shelves of stores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries around the Middle
East as Muslims await an apology for the cartoons, which the Copenhagen
government has said it cannot give. The boycotts have also spawned
counter-boycott campaigns to "Buy Danish."
Naser Khader, a
Syrian-born member of the Danish Parliament, speaks to the media at the
parliament building in Copenhagen, Denmark Thursday Feb. 16, 2006. Khader,
the leader of a newly created network of moderate Muslims urged Thursday
like-minded Muslims in other countries to unite forces to show another
face of Islam. Khader co-founded the Democratic Muslims network on Feb. 5
to counterbalance a group of conservative imams who have been accused of
fueling the outrage against Denmark in Muslim countries.
The boycotts began in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 26 when supermarkets either put up
signs saying to stop buying Danish goods or removed products from shelves. Since
then it has spread to other Muslim nations, and even to Western stores doing
A supermarket in Cairo run by France's Carrefour has had signs, for example,
saying that it is not offering Danish products "in solidarity with Muslims and
A spokesman for Carrefour in France said the store was a franchise run by a
local company. While Carrefour is strictly neutral, he said, the stores operated
by partners and franchises are free to make commercial decisions according to
the local situations.
Indonesia's importers association on Wednesday began boycotting Danish goods,
which it said made up $74 million in 2005, about 1 percent of the nation's
In Syria, banners on walls and storefronts all call for consumers to avoid
Employees of Danish Lurpak butter agent Yasser Al-Srayyed recently raised a
banner in front of his Damascus office saying: "Yasser al-Srayyed has stopped
importing Lurpak." The banner is now gone, but the imports have not resumed.
"It's a situation that causes a great concern from our members," said
Henriette Soltoft, director of international market policy for the Confederation
of Danish Industries, which represents Denmark's major companies.
"There's also the fear (for the future) ... that the consumer will not
remember exactly what happened, but they will remember the connection to
Denmark," she said, noting that the Middle East is seen as a growth area. "Our
good relations with these countries have been damaged but we don't know yet to
what extent — that we'll see in the future and it will depend on how soon this
crisis will be solved and how it will be solved."
The drawings published by newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September have sparked
protests, sometimes violent, in Muslim countries. Islam widely holds that
representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
Iran's Foreign Minister Manushehr Mottaki reiterated a common position on
Thursday, saying that "in order for the Danish government to mend its relations
with the Islamic world and Muslim peoples, it should issue a formal apology."
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has repeatedly rejected demands
for an apology, saying the government cannot be held responsible for the actions
of an independent newspaper. The paper itself has apologized for offending
Muslims, but has stood by its decision to print the drawings, citing freedom of
European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has warned governments that
if they are behind the boycotts that they could face action at the World Trade
Organization if the EU proves they are involved. If the boycotts are purely
consumer-driven, however, little can be done.
Denmark's Danske Bank estimates Danish goods worth $1.6 billion annually are
threatened in 20 Muslim countries by the boycott. That compares with worldwide
exports in 2004 of about $73 billion.
But Soltoft cautioned that the damage goes beyond exports, extending to
service contracts, shipping and production facilities in the area — losses that
cannot yet be quantified.
"It's really difficult to give an exact picture of the situation for the time
being," she said in an interview Thursday.
Arla Foods, one of Europe's largest dairy companies, is thought to be the
worst hit, losing an estimated $1.6 million each day.
Others have been affected to a lesser extent, like Lego, which said Middle
Eastern sales only account for 0.2 percent of its sales and that many do not
identify it as a Danish company.
"We have never marketed ourselves as a Danish product, we see ourselves as an
international brand," said spokeswoman Charlotte Simonsen. "You can ask
Americans who think it is American, ask Germans who think it's German — many
people don't know that it's Danish."
The boycott has also spawned a grass-roots Internet campaign by people around
the world urging others to "Buy Danish," generally in support of freedom of
"The Danish government has nothing to do with it and has been very correct
that they have nothing to say about what newspapers publish, and we should not
let these religious fanatics try to make them," said Tijl Vercaemer, an
engineering student in Ghent, Belgium. He started his supportdenmark.com Web
site after watching Palestinian gunmen briefly take over an EU office in Gaza on
Jan. 30 in anger over the drawings.
Vercaemer said he has received thousands of e-mails in response to his site —
one of many that have sprouted up in support of Denmark — including from Muslims
expressing their solidarity.
On Wednesday he started selling stickers, at about $1 for 15 to cover his
costs, with the slogan "Help the Danes defend our freedom: SUPPORT DENMARK" and
said he has already shipped more than 700.
"It's hard to say whether the 'Buy Danish' campaign really works, it was more
intended as moral support," the 23-year-old said. "But I was very happy to read
... that some companies say that they really thought the 'Buy Danish' campaign
could give them more income than the boycott could cost them."