Black Friday has become a celebration of deals and discounts, but at what cost?

Black Friday has become a celebration of deals and discounts, but at what cost?

Originating in America in the 1960s, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. It was originally coined by traffic police officers working long hours on the day when shoppers would descend on stores to start their Christmas shopping.

Philadelphia Police officers in 1969, just a few years after they started using the phrase "Black Friday" (Photo source: Billy Penn)

Marketers took advantage of this to create a utopia of deals and discounts, enticing customers to bag every bargain. But, our Black Friday bargains don’t just cost money. They are part of a culture of overconsumption that is hurting us, the industry workers and the planet. At Brothers We Stand, we’re taking a day off from shopping to reflect on Black Friday’s impact, and how we can shop more sustainably this weekend.

Black Friday’s environmental impact

This weekend, UK shoppers are expected to spend £9.2 billion, with fashion being the second most popular category after electricals. But the overall cost of Black Friday is far greater. Cheap mass production, heavy emissions, and a trail of disposable products are all part of a shopping frenzy that takes our natural world for granted.

By 2030, clothing consumption is expected to increase by 63% by 2030 - the equivalent to an additional 500 billion t-shirts, all coming out of the earth’s oil, soil and water supplies. That kind of demand forces supply chains to cut corners on quality, leaving most of those t-shirts short-lived and unrecyclable.

On Black Friday, our 'Add To Bag' button will be blocked, replaced by a Black Friday sign that will redirect you to our three alternative actions.

Delivery demands are also a problem. If it’s standard delivery, shopping online reduces our carbon footprint compared to shopping in a store. But, the sheer scale of consumption on Black Friday has caused spikes in air pollution in the past. Growing demand for next- or same-day delivery, spurred on by Black Friday’s greatest champion in Amazon, cancels out that carbon reduction through inefficient systems and a higher number of lorries on the road.

Eventually, with little or no connection to the deals we dined on, we end up chucking up to 80% of our Black Friday purchases, leaving our earth, oceans and ecosystems heaving from pollution and waste. Consumption is part of being human, but taking the time to shop sustainably will slow our impact, reduce our waste and give the earth more time to replenish what we’ve taken from it.

Black Friday’s social impact

Many retailers are driven by profit, which makes Black Friday a priority, and people an afterthought.

The frenzy of deals and discounts wouldn’t be possible without the cheap manufacturing that puts factory workers wages and health at risk. In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory disaster took 1,130 lives, and a report just days before showed workers’ pay had dropped to 14% of their required living wage. Brands are constantly outsourcing to unsafe factories in search of cheaper production, leaving workers vulnerable to being badly treated and unpaid - which is why our second action invites you to join us in asking Next, Nike and Amazon to #PayTheirWorkers.

A report days before the Rana Plaza factory disaster shows Cambodian and Bangladeshi workers wages had actually decreased over a ten year period. (Source)

Black Friday puts added pressure on warehouse and delivery workers, too. At Amazon, long hours and extreme quotas cause a spike in injuries during the Black Friday period. When workers have tried to advocate for improved safety conditions, they’ve been fired. Amazon’s abuse of workers is so widespread that this year workers in 20 different countries are using Black Friday as an opportunity to protest.

And, we should, too. Black Friday encourages the consumption of what Philosopher Noam Chomsky calls “created wants” - items we’re told to want. Corporations create an item, then create the desire through advertising and PR. Black Friday is one of those advertising and PR tools, pointing us towards items we don’t need, whilst ignoring the needs of the people working tirelessly to produce and deliver those items.

The master of creating "wants" - Don Draper from the TV show Madmen

What can I do differently?

Buy better, buy less and buy mindfully. For many people, this could still mean a Black Friday deal - it is a time when discounts make it possible to buy Christmas presents for loved ones, or other items they need. Looking down on people who support Black Friday is missing the point. The important thing is to shop sustainably within your means. Take care not to fall for a dodgy deal, and look for brands that care for the planet and their workers, instead of cutting corners for quick profits. Our step-by-step guide will help you do this - slowing down, shutting out the noise, and making a buying decision that’s good for you, the environment and the people who produce the products we buy.