By Kacie Wedel
International Human Rights Day is one we spend celebrating the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that took place in 1948. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, she brought an awareness and strong passion for human rights.
The importance behind this day is beyond measure.
Article 4 of the UDHR clearly states, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” This easily ties into the rights of those negatively impacted by consumerism.
Consumerism does have a positive effect on economic growth. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away from the certainty of what is still happening today. According to the Global Slavery Index, many are promised salaries they never receive or are threatened with violence. The outcome of this forced labour is the production of some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear.
Let’s break this down
Consumerism – what is it? To put it simply, consumerism is the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services is economically desirable. I’m not going to lie to you, I have had such a problem partaking in overconsumption. I am a grown woman, I have my faults. I can admit this. I have, in recent years, spent an embarrassing amount at Primark.
As I’ve grown and started to experience the world, I’ve come to understand just how large of a rock I’ve been living under. The negligence I had in the choices I made as a frequent shopper had effects I never even realised, or cared to think about.
When consumers, such as myself, are unaware of the effects of their purchasing decisions supply chains begin to grow. This can heighten forced labour and it can cause limited transparency in businesses.
If our mindset of “I want everything and I want it now” continues, we ignore what’s actually happening behind the scenes. This needs to change.
Evidence has shown that frequent shoppers aren’t primarily focused on affordable prices. Socially responsible businesses have become particularly favourable, especially among millennials. The millennial generation is considered to be the driving force behind this change, with the age group of 45-64 years to follow.
Responsible, eco friendly businesses are beginning to flourish and people are becoming more aware. This is great! At the same time, the demand for low prices and instant gratification puts pressure on large corporations to mass produce – and fast.
The demand for our never ending consumption results in cheaper labour sought out in third world countries who often have weak enforcement of Human Rights protections. By seeking cheap labour in these countries, companies essentially bypass the laws put in place by the UDHR.
This brings attention to the attitude-behaviour gap, or value-action gap. The attitude-behaviour gap is “the idea that consumers do not necessarily make purchases in accordance with professed values or principles.” As mentioned before, a lack of knowledge in what goes on in the process of consumerism can have drastic effects.
With the attitude-behaviour gap, it’s shown that the majority of shoppers are opposed to purchasing goods produced by modern slavery. This is a good place to start, but by remaining unaware we still are at fault.
How can we promote change?
It’s important to remember always – everyone is deserving. Every human being is entitled the right to life, liberty, happiness. If we don’t start to focus on being more morally conscious, this could result in armed violence, destructive impacts on the development of countries, and can affect economic growth.
So what steps can we take?
One of the eight basic Consumer Rights is the right to be informed. This is key in knowing who companies are hiring, how they treat employees, and if they are taking part in horrendous acts such as forced labour.
Speak up for what you care about. Embrace your passion to fight against injustices and let your voice be heard. The more we inform others on the violations of Human Rights, the more we can do to bring the abuse to an end.
Volunteer and listen to others’ stories. Modern slavery, or forced labour, is more prevalent than one might realise. Although we’ve had the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, several people still suffer.
“Over 10,000 were identified as potential victims by the authorities in the UK in 2019.”
By listening to the stories of those personally affected, we grow an empathy for what they went through. This brings a sense of honour and respect for the survivors and can help motivate change.
Finally – be thoughtful about what you buy.
Shop sustainably and ethically. Being an ethical consumer can help deter funding to companies that use exploitative practices. If larger companies are forced to reevaluate their ethics we can make a difference. By focusing on sustainable shopping habits, you not only have a better quality product, but you contribute to a better quality of life for those involved in the production process.
We Can Do It
Human Rights will always remain relevant.
“The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948.” – UNESCO
By continuing to learn to improvise and adopt new habits, we can make a real change in the process of consumerism. We have to start somewhere.
No matter how insignificant you may think your fast fashion purchase is, I’m here to tell you it’s not true. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the insignificance. I’m one person, how can I make that big of an impact? Every purchase matters. If we join together in standing up for what we believe in we can make the world a better place. We just have to start.
I believe in you, in us, and I believe in the change we can bring together united.