We’ve all seen the Black Friday advertisements calling on us to buy and consume at cheaper rates. Given our country’s minimum wage and struggling economy, the slash in prices can come as a welcome surprise to any individual or family unit as yesterday’s traffic and rush to the stores confirmed. But while the discounts may come in handy, there are a few things we need to be aware of in relation to Black Friday.
1- It’s really bad for the environment; in fact with hyper-consumption comes excess packaging, excess waste, excess traffic, and of course excess spending. Lebanon’s garbage crisis is still ongoing, and among all the solutions proposed (from seaside landfills, to recycling) not enough awareness has been raised on the urgent need to decrease consumption and packaging (most of which ends up in our natural environment). The world, too, suffers from the problems caused by over-consumption, and occasions like Black Friday exacerbate the problem.
2- While some may argue that this is good for the economy –which it is; any market drive is– it’s not so great for small businesses and local products dwarfed by retail conglomerates and multinational corporations. In many cases smaller businesses cannot afford to make such discounts since they operate on a much smaller scale. This marginalizes smaller businesses and puts them under more pressure to sell out to large multinationals. Can you remember the last time you went to a small shop to buy your goods rather than the mall? Can you remember the last time you purchased local products?
3- Every year dozens of people are crushed as they stampede towards their discounted product of choice. As Greenpeace puts it, instead of chasing prey in the jungle like our ancestors, we are made to chase a bargain. I’d hate to see this turned into a normalcy in Lebanon, especially in light of last year’s Balmain stampede.
4- Black Friday usually offers discounts on clothes and electronics. Fast fashion is one of the highest selling product categories but fast fashion uses a lot of precious fresh water and pollutes rivers and seas with toxic chemicals. We are consuming and trashing clothing at a far higher rate than our planet can handle because fast fashion makes items cheaper but less durable. Some stores (like H&M’s Conscious Collection) are beginning to make the switch, but it’s still minimal in comparison to what is needed. If you must buy clothes, please consider smaller businesses. They may not be eco-friendly since the demand is small, but at least, by supporting them, we are supporting families rather than chain stores.
5- Electronic discounts and the ever increasing production of newer models encourage us to buy stuff we sometimes do not need. Electronics production, from mining material to the final product, is highly polluting. Apart from that warlords, soldiers, and child laborers all toil over minerals we’ve never even heard of. Coltan and cobalt are conflict minerals found in nearly every cell phone, laptop, and electronic device. They’re also tied to the deaths of over 5 million people in Congo since 1990. Human rights organization Amnesty International is accusing Apple, Samsung and Sony, among others, of failing to do basic checks to ensure children do not mine minerals used in their products. In a recent report, the watchdog says it found children as young as seven working in dangerous conditions to extract cobalt — a vital component of lithium-ion batteries — in the DRC.
Yes, I use a laptop, television, and smart phone, but my television is ten years old; my phone 3. I just recently changed my laptop after 8 years of pushing through an old one. When the time comes to change my phone, I will go for the FairPhone, which is the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. With these little changes I hope to encourage ethical, responsible and above all the SLOW consumption of products on at least a personal level and within my smaller circle of friends and family, even though I have much work to do in terms of beauty products and diet (we do what we can). An addendum, when we slow down our consumption rate for electronics, we reduce e-waste.
6- Hyper-consumerism plays a huge role in the persistence of Third World sweatshops. While the subject is highly controversial in that many believe that child labor in sweatshops can alleviate poverty (which it can), proponents fails to highlight how neoliberal theories of privatization and deregulation have enforced the proliferation of the sweatshop and garment industry in the Global South. Sweatshop labor entails long working hours, and child labor on a below minimum wage. This keeps in place a weak enforcement of labor laws and a dependence on export oriented employment that thrives on the isolation of non-unionized employees, according to Jill Esbenshade, author of Monitoring Sweatshops.
7- Although it has become a trend in several countries, Black Friday started in the United States as day to kick off the official holiday shopping right after Thanksgiving is marked. While Thanksgiving may be celebrated by many as a day to give thanks, to the Native Americans it is a day of mourning. On top of that, Black Friday, which falls on November 26, renders National Native American Heritage Day (observed after Thanksgiving) invisible. This (and not coincidentally) leads me back to the environment.
8- Native American tribes and environmentalists are currently fighting what has been called one of the biggest projected ecological disasters in the United States: The Dakota Access Pipeline. If you’re not aware, hundreds of protesters –aka water protectors — are currently being beaten, arrested, incarcerated and evicted for protecting the Missouri River and sacred burial grounds in North Dakota where excavation works for the pipeline are currently happening. Hyper-consumerism is dependent on the fossil fuels industry; this dependence, if not broken, will accelerate climate change –and this is a matter that concerns us all as consumers and citizens in a global market.
I’m no saint; I’m not saying that I am not a consumer, but I have had to train myself throughout the years against the compulsion to buy things I do not need. Yes, ethically produced, fair trade products are heavier on the pocket, and sometimes they’re not easily available, but if we reduce consumption, we can afford to pay a little extra for the things we do need, all the while encouraging smaller businesses, families, a greener economy and the demand for ethically produced products.
It’s overwhelming, I know, but while we cannot save the world in one day, we can at least rethink our consumer culture. Though we may believe that we, as individuals, do not hold much power, we can through our consumer influence start to change trends. Of course this needs massive awareness campaigns that begin with how our purchasing power affects the environment to how we can make change without hurting the economy. In addition, companies make us forget that we need to consume less to decrease pollution and stop climate change, but maybe its up to us to remind them.
On a final note, I will not be buying anything this week. Instead I’ll be following the anti-privatization protests that will take place today (Saturday). One will be happening in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Baida while another is being organized for Tripoli’s Mina. For more info click here.