Behind every purchase is a person; reduce holiday shopping

Michelle Wei, Editor-in-Chief

As ornaments are put on the Christmas tree, gelt is eaten, hot chocolate is drunk, ugly Christmas sweaters are worn and the countdown to 2020 begins, it’s clear that the winter holiday season is here. In this time of year, the air thickens with the aroma of gingerbread and anticipation of everything the holidays entail: spending time with family, sitting by the fireplace, and of course, holiday shopping. 

Visit any website or walk into any store and variations of “holiday discounts” or “winter sale” signage can be found. As a consumer, it’s so easy to get drawn into these “sales” that seem to be calling and it’s just as easy to forget to hold ourselves accountable. During the holiday season especially, it’s imperative to remember the detrimental effects of our shopping. 

In the production, packaging, and delivery process of selling, workers are often rendered invisible to the average consumer. On an everyday basis, but particularly during the holiday season, the impacts of our shopping are forgotten. Beneath the “holiday spirit” of gift-giving lies the true nature of mass consumerism: using slave labor to sell and buy cheap, consumer goods. From ocean trawling for seafood, mining cobalt ore for cell phones and laptops, harvesting cacao, producing clothing, tanning leather, or manufacturing children’s toys, workers are often exploited through forced labor by companies we buy from, for the products we buy.

The internet age only exacerbates the mindless manner in which we purchase. According to a U.S. Census Bureau’s E-commerce Statistics report, e-commerce shipments were 66.7 percent of all manufacturing shipments in 2017. Amazon, the company dominating the 21st-century consumer market, exemplifies how embedded the exploitation of thousands of workers into our shopping experience is. While Jeff Bezos maintains his inexplicable wealth, Amazon warehouse workers and truck drivers toil for low wages, suffer from overwork, and sustain workplace injuries. The reality that workers are under such pressure to the extent that they are unable to take bathroom breaks is the one behind the seemingly simple click of “two-day shipping.” 

Americans buy in excess and the ethical production–or lack thereof–of what we buy must be at the forefront of our shopping habits. We, as individuals, are all consumers. Our actions have reactions, even when we can’t or don’t want to fully see the reactions. We control where we spend our money. Our demands drive the economy’s production and consumption methods. We should hold ourselves responsible by learning the full impact all our shopping has on workers and shop mindfully. 

This isn’t to say that all means of production are through slave labor or that no one should buy Christmas gifts, but to say everyone should truly reflect on what they already have and where they buy from. Research the companies you buy for. Be discerning. What do you, or who you’re buying something for, truly need or want? Why? How often will your purchase be used? Only buy what you need–something you’ve felt the lack of. Shop for practicality. Make a list and stick to it. Limit your consumption. Whether it’s a toy, a pair of shoes, or groceries for Christmas dinner, do not buy in excess. Behind every purchase is a person.