Black Friday is so last century

27 November 2015 - 11:15am
War on Want in the news

Vicki Hird, Campaigns and Policy Director, War on Want. A version of this article was originally published by the Ecologist.

The 'shop till you drop' event that is Black Friday first hit my consciousness in 2014 in Paraguay's capital city. I was there to meet some farmers and was baffled by these odd Black Friday posters in shop windows.

So I caught up on what Black Friday stands for. It means buying lots more stuff on one day when the goods look cheaper.

Exploiting workers'

Despite rumours that the name originated in the slave trade it seems that Black Friday as a term, was coined by police despairing at levels of traffic and smog resulting from shopper traffic after thanksgiving. That seems familiar. Thanks Volkswagen!

I know that many people are uncomfortable with Black Friday: too much, too cheap, too ravaging of the world’s resources and exploiting workers’ lives.  People buy tat on impulse when on a calmer day they may have been more sensible. 

But finally, times are changing. Many people are uncomfortable with Black Friday: too much, too cheap, too ravaging of the world's resources and workers' lives. People buy tat on impulse when on a calmer day they may have been more sensible.

'Cheap' fast fashion

Such concerns are justified. War on Want's partners in the global south all too often feel the sharp end of 'cheap' fast fashion; Producing clothes at such rock bottom prices that make basic factory health and safety - let alone wages you can live on - impossible.

Hear their stories here. Workers producing electronic gadgets are exposed to toxic chemicals and inhumane conditions.

One cheering note is that US Black Friday sales were down in 2014 compared to 2013 and public opinion is shifting. Yet this US tradition has spread its ugly limbs far and wide. Seeing it in Paraguay, when I was about to visit rural communities devastated by the expansion of export led agriculture, was a bit of a shocker.

Buy Nothing Day

So let's give a big hand to Buy Nothing Day - which proposes wonderful ways in which not shopping can be fun and creative - as well as frugal. And good to see that the fight back goes beyond such initiatives.. Even some UK retails giants are resisting the Black Friday madness. Bicester Village and ASDA have declared their non-participation, for example.

Will this herald the start of a new circular economy and fair economy drive which delivers fair wages, good labour conditions, and quality products which last and which don't cost the planet? Well, it's a bit of a dream - but we have to start somewhere! Everyone knows deep down that this 'retail therapy' based way of life - shopping as fulfilment - is on the way out. We need something better.

'Work It Off Wednesday'

In honour of those people willing to forgo the pleasures of Black Friday in 2015 - the cheap rubbish, the misleading bargains, the huge planetary harm that goes with all that consumption - can I suggest a few alternatives?

'Mend it Monday' could be the day you pick one thing to mend instead of replace. If you need help with stuff like this then try Restart. Or how about 'Work It Off Wednesday' which could involve more walking upstairs, walking to work or school, or going to the park instead of shops.

And on Friday you could do the Buy Nothing option or, for a more flavoursome approach, how about a Flexitarian Friday where you 'eat food, eat less and mostly plants'. This could start to reduce the enormous environmental impact of industrial meat production, not to mention the cruelty it inflicts on farm animals.

Furthermore, at this seasonal time when purchases are the norm, using charity catalogues and shops can also mean your thoughtful purchase puts something back.

Slaves, sexism and sales 

We don't have to be slaves to sales pitches and corporate marketing drives. Take some of the time you saved shopping joining in campaigns for a fair and decent living for all, including better wages and conditions for fashion workers.

And support the fight against so-called free trade deals such as TTIP, TPP and CETA that will just boost corporate control over what we buy and force countries to dismantle regulations that protect the environment, workers’ rights and food safety. 

Like sexism and land lines, Black Friday is last century thinking and needs to be scrapped before it establishes itself. Let us hope there is no Black Friday in 2016.

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