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Impact on People

The ability to consume mass quantities of goods requires labor and raw materials, which are more affordable when taken from poor countries and vulnerable people. Convenience on one likely means a higher true cost elsewhere. Consider how consumer actions relate to the humanities issues below.

Exploited labor

Common goods industries like the textile, clothing, leather, footwear (TCLF) sector exploit vulnerable workers. Meanwhile, global demand for these products is increasing, driven by popular fashion, growing population, and easy e-commerce. Consider how this may increase exploitation of children, women, and immigrant workers.

Learn more: ilo.org (2019)

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 overlooked and their communities destabilized. Consider how much we know about the communities our resources come from.

Learn more: un.org (2012)

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Credit: Akintunde Akinleye / Climate Visuals Countdown

Replanting the paramo of Guerrero

Credit: Ivan Camilo Ospina / Climate Visuals Countdown

Habitat depletion

A large appetite for products leads to depletion of resource-rich environments. Locals in depleted environments lose access to resources themselves, watch the ecosystem suffer, and may even be pushed from their homes. Consider what happens to these communities as demand outpaces natural production.

Learn more: forest-trends.org (2014)

Small business

Mass production and subsidization overtake small businesses locally and abroad. When the U.S. decided to pump out subsidized rice around the world, for example, rice farmers from South America to Africa went out of business. Consider how mass production to satiate mass consumption affects local producers.

Learn more: Poverty Inc (2016)

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Credit: Tashiya de Mel / Climate Visuals Countdown

Child in Mining Conditions.jpg

Credit: Supratim Bhattacharjee / Climate Visuals Countdown

Sacrifice zones

The underbelly of production—waste, toxins, pesticides, and pollutants—disproportionally affect poor communities locally and abroad. Mines, factories, landfills, and industrial farms are often placed in marginalized communities. Consider what our own backyards would look like if we had to absorb the waste of everything we consume.

Mental health

Advertising's purpose is to convince us we are incomplete without a particular product. The messaging used to do this shapes our definitions of beauty, material success, sexuality, masculinity, and status. Consider the impact of constant exposure to product advertising on our mental health.

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.

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