Violence and the Philosophy of Consumption
Part one of a three-part series exploring the relationship between consumerism and different forms of violence. This article seeks to illuminate some of the ways in which fast fashion acts as the unaccountable perpetrator of violence against vulnerable workers.
This article explores broad themes such as consumerism and capitalistic exploitation in the hopes that readers will begin or continue researching the ethics of fast fashion. This article is not encyclopedic, but it is a starting point.
Consumption. A philosophy I am well acquainted with.
A house full of artifacts – ceremoniously unsentimental.
The new feels like home.
And what a privilege it is to find comfort in clothing! The solace of sales.
And what a privilege it is to consume with eyes buttoned, because mouths zipped speak not of the traumas of consumption. The casualties of consumption. The victims of the system I uphold.
What does it matter that this bag is new?
It is widely accepted that the consumerism of wealthy populations is massively unsustainable. As debates surrounding its unsustainability increase and intensify, so do questions regarding the ethical implications of the philosophy of consumption. How can the continuation of an unsustainable practice be deemed ethical? This question becomes even more significant when we consider the reality that the consumerism of wealthy nations, which is reliant on capitalism as a global system, is responsible for an exasperation of resources and an intensification of inequality on a global scale. Consumerism, within this context, describes the maintenance of a lifestyle that is dependent on the exploitation of the environment, people, and systems, and although this article is focused on fast fashion, the term refers to everything from the meat industry to transport, water usage to digital technology.
The philosophy of consumption pertains to the incessant pursuit of the fulfilment of desire.
The philosophy of consumption pertains to the mindset that assets and immediacy are necessity.
The philosophy of consumption pertains to the unaccountability of the consumer.
The consequences of material consumption are frequently explored through an anthropological approach, with the study of culture and human conditions being at the forefront of ethical initiatives. An example of this is the #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign by Fashion Revolution. The online movement is dedicated to the safety of factory workers and the sustainability of garment production. Through the utilising of social media, Fashion Revolution compel thousands of consumers to join in their demand for greater transparency within fashion production and distribution processes.
This honourable organisation was set up in direct response to a human tragedy. On the 21st April 2013, 1,138 individuals lost their lives in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. The causes of the building collapse have been recognised as ruthless industrialisation and neglect of safety compliance. These victims were denied sufficient infrastructure and legal protection. Fast fashion retailers exploited and exasperated this situation.
Such tragedies are a gruesome and often unwelcome reminder to consumerist society that our consumption comes at the expense of the livelihood and s a f e t y of others.
Global supply chains exploit the vulnerable in order to satisfy the desires of consumers.
Global supply chains are able to do this with little to no accountability.
“Over two decades the big retailers and brands (not just those caught producing in Rana Plaza) have systematically distanced themselves from the manufacture of their product. It is part of their business model.” – Lucy Siegle, Environmentalism journalist
Tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse
Dhaka Tazreen Fashions fire
Wing Star Shoes collapse
shine the light on the murderous face of fashion. Such appalling and preventable disasters depict the reality that is violence against the vulnerable.
“Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting into instant sensational visibility.” – Rob Nixon, Slow Violence
“instant sensational visibility”
Calamities such as the Rana Plaza collapse need to be recognised as acts of violence perpetrated by not just retailers, but consumers also. What a privilege it is to consume with eyes buttoned, because mouths zipped speak not of the traumas of consumption.
Recognition of exploitative consumerism as an act of violence alter significantly the discourse surrounding factory disasters. When we begin to understand these events as acts of violence, rather than unfortunate accidents, the possibility of ignoring them becomes much less compelling. Instead, we are encouraged to recognise these workers as victims, and understand industries as perpetrators that must be held accountable. One might even go as far as to suggest that it is the lifestyle, the ideal, the philosophy of consumerism that has blood on its hands.
Themes explored within this article have been researched extensively by a wide range of artists and academics. My aim was to introduce key concepts in this first article, and so I encourage you, reader, to explore and meditate over the plethora of research that exists on these topics. Here are a few texts to get you started:
Fashion Revolution. www.fashionrevolution.org
Siegle, Lucy. (2013, May 5). Fashion Still Doesn’t Give a Damn About the Deaths of Garment Workers. The Guardian. (Source: web)
Nixon, Rob. (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press. (Source: PDF)
Joy, Annama., Sherry, John., Venkatesh, Alladi., Wang, Jeff., Ricky Chang. Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands. (Source: web)
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