Impact on People
When consumer demand for products surpasses the materials locally available in a community, resources and labor are taken from another more vulnerable community, impacting the people within it. Vulnerable and impoverished communities are also the first to feel the negative impact of product waste and emissions, but ultimately, we all feel the impact. Consider the following as products of unconscious consumption…
Common consumer goods industries, like the textile, clothing, leather, and footwear (TCLF) sector, often exploit vulnerable workers to increase profit margins. Global demand for products using forced labor continues to rise due to a growing population and an appetite for cheap goods.
War and conflict
Conflict over natural resources like oil for energy and minerals for technology spark 40 percent of civil wars. When extractions from poor, resource-rich countries are exported to supply wealthier countries, the needs and concerns of locals are often ignored.
When one community consumes more resources than are available locally, they require resources (e.g. forests, water, and fossil fuels) from other communities to meet their needs. The people in the communities they take from are often left with a depleted ecosystem and resource shortages themselves.
Small business suffering
Mass production and subsidization overtake small businesses locally and abroad. When a powerful economy exports goods into a country or community for a lower price than local goods, it puts small businesses out of work and eventually makes those communities reliant on imports, unable to self-sustain.
Production sites like mines, factories, landfills, and industrial farms are often placed in marginalized communities. Waste, toxins, pesticides, and other pollutants disproportionally affect the people in these communities who are already less likely to have access to healthcare, stable infrastructure, and legal support.
In consumer cultures where sales are the main measure of growth, companies push advertising to convince us we are incomplete without more products. This messaging shapes our definitions of beauty, success, sexuality, masculinity, status, and ourselves.
Doing the least harm
And, ideally, the most good
When working to reduce the negative impact purchases may have on other people, start by gaining an understanding of where your products come from and what labor and resources were required.
Support companies making an effort to pay fair wages, mitigate resource conflict, consider product end-of-life impact, and advertise honestly.
Of course, this can become an overwhelming task, especially if we consume a lot of stuff. This is a great reason to minimize purchases. The less we buy, the less research is required. See more possible solutions to harmful consumption on the consumer solutions page.
Now consider this...
At one point in human history, we made everything we needed ourselves or within our small communities. Now, we are so removed from the many hands that make our products, we forget that other humans are involved.
How might getting more in touch with what we consume not only reduce suffering for others but improve our experience and quality of life, too?
Explore more on how consumer culture impacts us as individuals and think about how we influence and are influenced by the people in our culture.
Sources and inspirations
"Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking." International Labor Organization, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm, Published Sept. 2022.
"Extractive Industries and Conflict" United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/land-natural-resources-conflict/pdfs/GN_Extractive.pdf, Published 2012.
Liu, J. "Consumption Patterns and biodiversity." Royal Society. https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/biodiversity/consumption-patterns-and-biodiversity/, Accessed Oct. 23, 2022