Last weekend was Black Friday, a phenomenon which only a couple of years ago most of us, living in countries far from the United States, had never heard about. Then suddenly you wake up one cold morning of November to see it everywhere; on emails from on line shops displaying amazing offers, on signs outside every single shop in your neighbourhood, even outside family businesses whose owners cannot speak a single word of English but this time of the year make funny efforts in order to pronounce the phrase in a decent way, “Blash Fride”, I have heard, for instance, in some places in Spain. On the radio, on TV, banners on both sides of the reading panel of your favourite on line newspaper. Literally, everywhere.
The phrase already has a connotation for mourning. One of the interesting parts of this consumerist orgy is that although the phenomenon bears the name of Friday, it extends for the whole weekend, even starting the previous Thursday in some places.
First things first, what is Black Friday? Wikipedia says: It’s the day following Thanksgiving in the United States; since 1952 has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping period. It seems that the term originated in Philadelphia where it was used to describe the heavily and disrupted pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur the day after Thanksgiving. So its origins already surmise a sort of decadent nightmare.
Please do not get me wrong, I have nothing against capitalism and consumer behaviours but we must admit that some of them are beyond anything acceptable.
I often find myself feeling ashamed if I surrender and buy a cheap T-shirt at Zara or H&M, after reading news about what these companies do in other countries. I often feel very bad when I buy that cheap T-shirt which I already know I will wear for only a couple of years until either the poor quality cotton will be stretched or I will get bored of it. But what I cannot stop thinking after buying the item is that in order to make that T-shirt people in countries not so far from where I live have worked all day for a miserable salary. People who don’t have options like I do. I can just not buy that T-shirt. I can just not buy anything for a while or I can buy only second hand stuff. The point is that I can decide.
People began to get concerned about this issue with the terrible Tazren accident in Bangladesh four years ago where 117 people died when a fire broke out in a fashion factory. This accident disclaimed the terrible conditions under which those employees were working, we realised thus at that moment the real price we were paying for those cheap clothes, not the one on the label but a much higher one, the long-lasting stains in our consciences.
Capitalism and Globalisation have brought us progress and wellbeing in many aspects, I am not trying to deny that. You have to be very naïve to believe that going back to an agriculture and artisan society will restore peace, justice and everlasting happiness. There is no way back, progress is indisputably ahead of us, but we can do something to avoid the fact that most of the population suffer the consequences of the luxurious life of a few. At the end, the people who are really winning this game are just a small portion of the world population. I always felt a sort of repudiation for luxury items. I believe these to be immoral and definitely a sign of a total lack of good taste and elegance. Take Mr. and Mrs. Trump as a trendy example. Their taste for luxury objects and life style makes them caricatures of a vulgar surreal world. What kind of values and examples do they provide to young people? That posing for a magazine pretending to eat diamonds’ bracelets as if they were spaghetti is a sign of success?
The world economy follows the laws of communication vessels, when you have a lot of liquid in one it is because you are taking it from the other one. As simple as that.
Please do not call me a Communist, I could not be more against this doctrine which takes every human being as equal diminishing their precious individualisms, however I believe Capitalism should have some limits. It is impossible to continuously grow economically without devastating consequences.
These limits are very clear in my view, respect for human rights and the environment. The sad news is that we cannot trust our governments to watch over the respect of these simple values since most of the times governments are in agreement with some of the most predator manoeuvres of the multinational corporations, and look the other way when appropriate.
Thus, the responsibility falls under each of us. It is not always easy to remain strong and repress the urge of buying nice clothes, mobiles or gadgets. We often think we deserve this or that because we have worked so hard. And it is true, we deserve to indulge ourselves and spend some of the money we earn. But then I ask myself, were those minutes of happiness that buying that dress provided me with really worth it versus how bad I feel afterwards knowing I bought it in a shop belonging to a big corporation where the decision makers do not care if hundreds of people live like slaves to produce at the speed and price required? How pretty can I see myself on the mirror if inside I feel like an ugly fooled sheep who cannot stop herself from buying stupid useless things?
I believe there is a middle way, though, as always. If out of four times I’ve been tempted to buy a garment in a big fashion shop, I only do it once, that’s already a big step.
On the other hand, whenever I buy something from a local producer or artist I feel very good for two reasons, one since I acquired an original item and two because I am giving my money to somebody who is not damaging the lives of people in other countries but trying to make a life of his/her own. People who use materials from fair trade and watch out that all the manufacture process is clean. One example is TÖDAI http://todai.bigcartel.com/ a small cloth printing business in the north of Spain which uses only clothing from fair trade. For instance, Continental Clothing www.continentalclothing.com. They are a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which works with brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs and sometimes governments to verify and improve workplace conditions where our clothing is made. On their website https://www.fairwear.org, we can find fashion brands who are members of this foundation.
So in a nutshell, part of the solution in order to stop with the abusive practices of big corporations in the manufacturing countries is to buy less and buy better.
People are regaining conscience on which direction they wish to take in order to have a clean mind.
We cannot deny that there is an urgent need for mechanisms of control of these big multinationals in order to tackle corporations’ human right abuses and environmental crimes. Not only in the fashion industry but in the rest of the fields (electronics, pharmaceutical and of course in the agricultural, with Monsanto and Bayer at the lead).
On my research I found this important initiative which is gaining relevance, its voice is getting louder and more clear in Europe and Latino America; some organizations are putting pressure on the United Nations and the European Union to create an International Tribunal for Multinational Corporations. The truth is that nowadays these corporations enjoy total impunity in terms of lack of any international legal framework to which they must be held liable, so to speak, up to now they always managed to hide behind a legal vacuum when it comes to prosecute these corporations for crimes against human rights or the environment. They claim that either the national legal system of the country who wants to prosecute them lacks any legal power to do so, or they hide behind some unclear and antique international economic regulation.
We cannot forget that when it comes to resolving any economic dispute between two corporations they count with multiple resources like, for instance, the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. Companies present the subject of litigation, normally a contractual issue, to the Court and the Arbitrators will decide basically who is right and the eventual compensation to pay. Most of the international contracts between corporations have this clause incorporated, this way they count on a legal framework to settle any eventual dispute.
However, when it is a government or a group of citizens who deems it necessary to stop some detrimental practices of these corporations and need some kind of protection, the legal silence is absolute.
It is necessary therefore to create such Tribunal and it is now the responsibility of the UN and EU to do so. We need to finish with the total immunity of these corporations, otherwise they will end up ruling our governments and our lives.