Destructive Consumer Products, Boycotts and “Responsible Shopping”

Since the 1960s, corporations have accelerated production of consumer goods, fueled by ever more sophisticated and invasive advertising techniques, development of “disposable” goods of all kinds, and engineering technological and fashion obsolescence as never before. The drive for constant economic growth demands every increasing consumption.¬† Most of the cultural images around us, created by the same multinationals that create the products themselves, create in us the desire to work to make money to buy, consume and dispose of goods that we wouldn’t otherwise want or need., and to ignore the grave harm to ourselves and our world.

Every product we buy has a hidden cost: exploitation of all living beings and the Earth itself. In the extreme form of capitalism now practiced in developed countries, all things are valued only according to their capacity to create or limit profits. While we hear of a few high-profile abuses targeted by activists, exploitation is infused in every step of the production of the goods that we buy.

Boycotts and ethical consumerism campaigns attempt to create market pressure to reform specific abuses, while rewarding producers whose practices are more benign. However, they fail to address the system’s inherent problems. Carefully considering the impacts on living beings and the planet at every stage of production would curtail profits needed to keep owners and shareholders happy. Single issue campaigns at best lead to single issue reforms and at worst to corporate spin backed by no real substance.

To live in harmony with other beings and our planet, we need to go beyond “responsible shopping.” We must decrease personal and societal consumption, shrinking our personal and societal economic needs.  As freegans we reduce our financing of product-linked exploitation, while spending less time in jobs where we either exploit or are exploited by others. In so doing, we regain control of our time, the most precious commodity in our lives.

Below are just a few examples of the impacts of the products we consume and the corporations we support with our dollars. While much of the information below comes from groups advocating the “ethical shopping” approach, the information they have collected makes a powerful case for why we should avoid buying any new consumer goods. In those cases when we do buy, this information is helpful in at least selecting lesser evils.

Proof of harm

Diamonds: Financing Conflict in Africa

Gold: Indigenous Genocide and Ecological Destruction

Fur: Fashion Without Compassion

Wool: The Other Fur Industry

Facts on factory farming

Free Trade and Animal Rights

Chocolate

Coca Cola

Soy and Rainforest Destruction

Chevron Toxico

Don’t Buy ExxonРlinks to info on UK Greenpeace site

BP: A Legacy of Apartheid, Pollution and Exploitation

Behind the Label: Sweatshop Information

Global labor abuses– from National Labor Committee– very up to date. Website also includes specific campaigns.

The Consumerist: site subtitle is “shoppers bite back”. Lots of up-to-date muckraking, some of it fairly political.

What‚Äôs Wrong With Multinationals?- on the “Mcspotlight” web site, which targets McDonald’s. Some of the links don’t work and the info’s a bit dated, but a still a good resource.

Boycotts and Pressure Campaigns

Co-Op America’s Boycotts.org

Third World Traveler Boycott List

Products to Avoid to Spare Rainforests — this link starts the download of a pdf.

BP boycottMother Jones article (one of many in all kinds of publications) debating the value of boycotting individual gas stations in the aftermath of the massive Gulf oil spill.

Responsible shopping

Responsible Shopper

Ethical Consumer

Caring Consumer — info on how to buy only products that are cruelty free, i.e. not tested on animals.