In the tradition of non-violent freedom movements, the Tibetan freedom struggle has long attempted to use economic campaigns to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan Youth Congress in India was one of the very first groups to launch a boycott of Chinese products. TYC encouraged Tibetan refugees throughout India not to buy any Chinese made goods. Later, the US Tibet Committee and the Canada Tibet Committee joined forces with the AFL-CIO and other labour groups as well as Chinese dissident groups to launch the 'Toycott' campaign in the early 1990s. This was followed by a campaign initiated in London to boycott the Holiday Inn Hotel in Lhasa. Within two years, this campaign successfully got Holiday Inn to pull out its operations from Tibet. The Milarepa Fund also organized a boycott of Chinese goods in the late '90s. Though these efforts were unfortunately unable to sustain themselves, many individual Tibetans, supporters and concerned consumers have maintained a personal boycott of all Chinese products.
In the autumn of 2000, Jamyang Norbu, a Tibetan political writer, and Thupten Tsering, the Grassroots Coordinator of Students For A Free Tibet, embarked on the Rangzen Road Tour of North America. The trip was organized and managed by two veteran Tibet supporters, Lisa Keary and Peter Brown. The trip covered twenty cities across the U.S. and Canada, where the case was made for launching a worldwide boycott campaign. Following this Road Tour, a pamphlet entitled MADE IN CHINA was prepared, where a thorough case was made for not buying "Made in China" products.
The pamphlet was first released in New York on Friday, 13 April 2001 at the conference "Tibetan Dispatches" held at New York University. This pamphlet has been widely distributed and has served as a textbook for workshops on economic boycotts by several organisations. On 10th March 2002, in commemoration of the Tibetan Uprsing of 1959, MADE IN CHINA pamphlets and leaflets were distributed widely in New York.
A fresh impetus to the idea for a boycott campaign was given by the news of Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in May 2002. The success of the "Free Burma" struggle had once again demonstrated the effectiveness of economic boycotts and sanctions as a non-violent method of influencing and controlling, if not overthrowing repressive governments. A number of people expressed their eagerness to start such a campaign.
Several Tibetans and friends decided that an international campaign should be launched soon. Most felt that early December would be a good time to hit Christmas shoppers.
On 7th July, fourteen Tibetans and one Western friend met at a conference room in downtown Toronto. Everyone was unanimous that the campaign should be launched though many questions were asked about various aspects of the proposed campaign. Everyone agreed that lose-knit groups and individuals should undertake this campaign in a bottom-up fashion.
Among the participants at the meeting were Canada Tibet Committee (Toronto), Tibetan Youth Congress (Toronto), and Rangzen Alliance members. Rigzin Dolkar, a former organiser of "Toycott", was asked by those present to act as coordinator for the Boycott activities in Ontario.
With the encouragement of the Dalai Lama's North American representative Ngawang Rabgyal, Jamyang Norbu gave a brief presentation about the boycott campaign at the 7th Conference of Tibetan Associations of North America held in Minneapolis on 13-14 July 2002. The delegates were very receptive and passed a resolution that all Tibetans should not only boycott Chinese goods personally, but should undertake various campaigns and projects to obstruct the sale of Chinese products (see Statements of Conscience). In addition, at the conference of the North American Regional Tibetan Youth Congress branches in Portland, Oregon (17-18 August 2002) delegates were encouraged to organise a "Boycott of Chinese Goods" action campaign in each of their own cities on or around 10 December 2002 in honor of International Human Rights Day (see Statements of Conscience).
At their Free Tibet!!Action Camp in August 2002, Students For A Free Tibet organized a boycott workshop where students worked out various ingenuous schemes to effectively launch the campaign. Many of the ideas from this workshop were used at events in New York and other cities for the formal boycott launch of the Boycott campaign on 7th December 2002.
Soon the Tibetan Rights Action Coalition in Seattle indicated they wanted to join the campaign and support was also received from the World Tibet Day Foundation, the International Tibet Independence Movement, the Canada Tibet Committee in Victoria, and Friends of Tibet (India).
On 13th September 2002, members of the Rangzen Alliance met in New York City to discuss preparations for the Boycott Launch at which time Lisa Keary was asked to be the USA Boycott Liaison and Rigzin Dolkar the Canada Boycott Liaison. The next day there was a meeting at the Office of Tibet with the the Tibetan Association, Tibetan Women's Association, US Tibet Committee, and other representatives of such organisations in New York who gave their support for the campaign. On her return to Toronto, Rigzin then formally approached all the Tibetan and Tibet-support organizations in Ontario and received a positive response from every organization. Canada Tibet Committee in Victoria also joined the Boycott coalition.
In late October, a formal announcement of the Boycott Campaign was sent across the TSG-L and Rangzen listservs. Since then the campaign has received formal endorsements from individuals and groups in cities across the US and Canada, as well as New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Ireland, Germany, India, Côte de Ivoire, Argentina, Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Ghana, Australia, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Brazil, Philippines, Russian Federation, Portugal, Slovakia, the Netherlands and the UK.