Social Contracts - who else do you / your team have one with

We are all familiar with business contracts. You do things for me, sell me things, I give you money. Or the opposite, I sell, do things, you give me money. We’ve all had vendors / suppliers that have broken the business contract. We’ve stopped using them, sometimes use the courts to rectify things.

The recent issues with IFI have invoked a social contract “do bad things to your people I won’t do business with you”. In the last few weeks, lots of you / your teams have made these statements. A lot of you have made pretty heated comments about this. Lots of us have shown support for the IFI people and others that were wronged.

I have social contracts with a number of companies. I don’t shop at Walmart due to their business activities, employee treatment, etc. I don’t eat at Chic Fil a, or Pappa Johns due to their anti LGBTQIA+ strances, Hobby Lobby is of course a non starter.

I love my original iPad Air (2014), but will not buy another Apple product because of all the human rights issues with Foxconn and their business practices in Wisconsin.

I realize that Foxconn is problematic since they are one of the largest white label maker of displays in the world.

Other companies are a problem. Microsoft (Microsoft's Toxic Culture Persists Despite Pledge by CEO Satya Nadella) I’d love to boot MS, but the business world still uses them.

Amazon has a long, well documented history of employee issues.

Royal Dutch Shell is the worst of the oil companies, but it’s the fuel my marina supplies, so not much of a choice.

Again, I’ve said this many times, I do not condone misogyny, harassment or bullying / threats. It’s wrong and people should stop. In the following three sentences I am not defending anyone’s actions, I’m asking for your thoughs.

Who have you stopped dealing with? How do you draw the line? How is your cognitive dissonance waving your pitchfork while typing into your latest iPhone?


You had me for a bit, but this is childish.

It turns out none of us live in a world where we can be entirely ethical in our consumption. That’s not an excuse not to try.


Didn’t ask you not to try, in fact I asked for other examples on how you do try, and how you pick. And in cases where you don’t pick how do you resolve the differences.

1 Like

As a community, we have power to influence vex/ifi. We do not have any power over apple or Amazon or the other large companies that have some issues like this. If you do a cost-benefit analysis, the cost of not buying anything on Amazon is pretty high, but the benefit is practically nothing. Whereas for Vex, the cost isn’t that bad (most stuff can be found from alternate sources for reasonable prices), and the benefit is way higher (I’m sure that a few dozen teams ditching vex is going to impact their sales a lot).


It’s always worth voting with your pocketbook where you can. This means comparing alternatives and seeing how those alternatives stack up. Sometimes, the benefit of a certain product my be so great that you want to look at other paths towards influencing change (for example, you can support a workers movement directly, or support projects design to improve working conditions in other countries, or vote for pro-labor rights candidates in your area, etc).

But it’s also worth recognizing when doing so can actually have an impact. To have an impact generally requires a public movement. You need to be able to state clearly why you’re changing your purchasing habits, and have a significant portion of their customer base stand with you and say the same. A single individual doesn’t impact the companies financials enough to take notice. A large enough group of people, however, can demand attention from the people in power.


I think it’s best to disengage with actions that do not work towards a common constructive and positive goal. I can buy products from amazon and get prime to save money so that I can better my financial state, but I won’t advertise and promote amazon, nor will I help encourage any destructive actions they take. We have to seek the most constructive path, but that is where our limit lies; we can’t forge a new one if we don’t have the means. We can advise a destructive path for its remedy, but only if that is an open channel.

There are existential barriers to this; if the world is on the brink of being bathed in fire forever, I must do everything possible to prevent it, or otherwise any constructive community is permanently disabled. By no means are we there.

The level of agreement I have with the products and services I interact with on a daily basis will always be on a spectrum. Heck, take toilet paper. Bad toilet paper is a crime against humanity. But do I need toilet paper to survive in western infrastructure? Absolutely. We could open a channel to create a standard for toilet paper, but at the end of the day if we had to, we would buy cardboard.

In regards to VEX, the question that this situation has made me think on is: what service does VEX provide? They service parts, a competitive sphere, and create a standard of excellence and education by enabling a community. So if we don’t agree with VEX, just like we don’t agree with thin toilet paper, we can try to open channels of communication with a new standard. We can’t threaten to quit the community if we disagree with its enablers, simply because there is no alternative, and we are choosing to take a path that is disabling ourselves, when the entire world isn’t going to catch fire.

So what is our standard? Here are my thoughts:

  • Equal ability to pursue excellence
    • Equal access to parts
    • Equal access to a knowledge base
    • Equal access to an environment that is healthy and constructive.
  • The forum to convene and interact with subcommunities.

What can we do?

  • As a community enabled by vex, we have the power to create our own knowledge base to eliminate the manipulation of ideas, and we have the drive to create a structure that hold us accountable to our standard. I am talking about the shutting down of the forum, and how we rely on the community to learn and grow.
  • We don’t own an assembly line. But we do have access to so many digital services that do not limit our ability to create, and other products that allow a similar experience.
  • We can’t make every community perfect. However we can open communities with safe learning opportunities, with a lot of time and care.

The one thing we can’t change is the fact that VEX is our standard for community. To change that, you need to have and organize all of these elements. We didn’t like games like Change Up, but VEX was our standard, and we had to stick by it. Right now however, there is no open channel with VEX to talk about this standard.

1 Like

I briefly resisted posting this. Mister-Gotcha


Thank you for posting this. Some people will dismiss it because it’s a webcomic but the full version actually contains a compelling and punchy rebuke to the line of thinking represented in the OP. It’s a fundamental strain of conservative thought that’s EASY to fall victim to (I can tell you from experience), even if you hold progressive values.

I recommend listening to Episode 2 of the “Know Your Enemy” podcast which dives into the book The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, a 1991 book that looks at the strategies people use to oppose social change.

Reactionary narrative How it’s defined in the book [wikipedia] An example of how we see that narrative being deployed in the case of VEX/IFI An example of how we should react to those narratives as a community
Perversity thesis “According to the perversity thesis , any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy.” There is already a brushless motor duopoly in FRC, boycotting VEXpro products will only increase the control that these vendors have over the world of youth STEM education. We can only do our best to support organizations that we believe will help make the world a better place.
Futility thesis “The futility thesis holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing, that they will simply fail to ‘make a dent.’” “How do you draw the line? How is your cognitive dissonance waving your pitchfork while typing into your latest iPhone?” “None of us live in a world where we can be entirely ethical in our consumption. That’s not an excuse not to try.”
Jeopardy thesis “Finally, the jeopardy thesis argues that the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high as it endangers some previous, precious accomplishment.” An environment that “cancels” VEX might be incompatible with one where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes. After all, “Multiple women hold senior leadership roles throughout our organization, in addition to a diverse and inclusive global workforce.” It’s healthy to reconsider and refine our values in response to situations where those values have been found to create bad outcomes.

True. But you don’t need to act in concert. Many individuals acting alone can have the same effect. Over the years, a handful of local business have given me shoddy and/or abusive treatment. So I stopped patronizing them and found alternatives. Without exception these businesses have gone under (and been replaced by better alternatives). Not because I left, but because many people independently made the same decisions. In my experience, if is very rare that a business holds such a monopoly that you have no choice but to put up with inferior treatment. In any event, even if you can’t make the whole world better, you can make your life better.


I totally get where you’re coming from, but I disagree. Obviously robotics teams largely not purchasing from a vendor that makes parts for robotics teams will have a quicker and more significant impact. However, if we dismiss the idea that boycotting can work at a larger scale, we are surrendering our power as consumers. Of course it takes a lot of people and a lot of time to make a dent, but we should certainly try.

Ethically, one would hope that you wouldn’t be complicit with a company if you disagree with their practices, regardless of the culture. Practically, if you don’t boycott, there will never be consumer-driven change.

Collective action is hard – and it takes organizing…well, the collective. But we should still try when it’s what we believe.


Yes, you’ll see that happen when it comes to customer service issues. But you generally don’t see that happen for some of the non-customer facing issues that were mentioned in the OP, like employee treatment and pay scales. To get action for that, you need more than just individuals deciding to go elsewhere, as evidenced by some of the large companies mentioned (companies that aren’t shrinking or having difficulties).


There’s a well known case here in town where news that they were allegedly cheating their employees destroyed a set of very popular restaurants, because people just stopped going – so it can happen. Trial set in Mongolian Buffet lawsuit

So with the VEX forum down, I now have hours and hours on my hands. The place is still there, and they have reviews across 2014-present. A different LLC owns it, but Iowa records on LLCs are not really accessible, so could be the same people with a new LLC. I lack a Pacer account to follow up US Department of Labor v. Li et al 4:2015cv00136 | US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa | Justia

To answer OP’s question directly, I think we all have a personal list of companies that we personally boycott for various reasons.

The biggest ones on my list include:

  • American Airlines
  • OnTrac (shipping company)
  • Marvel (entertainment company)
  • Various local insurance and mortgage companies


When I flew US Airways, I’ve personally had several bad experiences with them including situations in which the staff scared passengers, grossly mismanaged their overbooking tactics, and misrepresented mechanical issues as weather issues to get out of passenger compensation commitments. American Airlines bought US Airways so they absorbed my boycott. It’s been over 15 years since I flew with them!

Why this? Just curious

Why OnTrac?

4 separate occasions they marked packages as delivered by the promised date, but did not physically leave the package at address until 1-2 days later (the first couple times I called to inquire and was accused of falsely claiming it did not arrive). The final time, the delivery person admitted they never attempted to deliver but marked the package as delivered the day before so their system didn’t label it as late).

Again, shady business practices…

As for Marvel, mostly because I’ve been super disappointed in their product line and repetitive remakes of the same story, lol

As a team, our money almost all comes from local support, fundraisers, and some larger companies generally in their support of a number of FIRST teams.

Our money typically goes to FIRST itself, to hotel chains, to local hardware stores, to niche FIRST part suppliers, and to various other businesses in mostly small amounts (<$500).

The decisions are made at time of purchase, usually based on price and/or past experience with various vendors. Like deciding to stay at the same hotel as last year because their staff and the experience was good for the team and they were price competitive, rather than researching what their corporate governance entails.

1 Like