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Beyond discounts: Unveiling the dark side of Black Friday

As Black Friday approached, I, like many others, started to create a mental list of things that I hoped to find at a discounted price. From kitchen utensils to children’s toys, make-up products to computers, Black Friday is the one day of the year when you can expect to purchase your favorite items at a magically lower price than any other time.

There’s no shame in looking forward to this day, as our minds are constantly being bombarded with targeted ads of things we don’t need, but are nonetheless hard to ignore. However, we often forget about the real cost behind these extremely cheap products, as well as the pressure it puts on people.

When I researched this topic, I encountered a widely spread misconception that I had heard before. It suggests that the term “Black Friday” originated from the 1800s when slave traders would sell enslaved workers at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. However, this myth has been proven to have no basis in reality, according to most sources.

The term “Black Friday” was not originally associated with holiday shopping madness. Instead, it referred to a financial disaster that occurred on September 24, 1869, known as the U.S. gold market crash. Wall Street tycoons Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempted to corner the black market, hoping to inflate its prices for immense profits. However, this strategy led to a financial collapse and a market crash that left both Wall Street magnates and farmers in financial ruin. This event was the first “Black Friday.”

Nowadays, Black Friday has become synonymous with hunting for the best deal. However, it represents much more than just the thrill of shopping and getting discounts. It also highlights the dark reality of excessive consumerism, which has a significant impact on the environment. 

According to the Green Alliance, up to 80% of the items bought on Black Friday, in addition to the packaging they arrive in, are thrown away after a few uses. For instance, clothes are sent to landfills, resulting in a rise in carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses. 

On the other hand, the increase in online shopping through offers like Cyber Monday has led to high CO2 emissions. During last year’s Black Friday week, it was estimated that 1.2 million tons of CO2 were released due to trucks transporting packages around Europe, which is 94% higher than an average week, according to Good Energy. 

The whole life cycle of a product needs to be considered, not just the increased number of deliveries responsible for the rise in emissions. This includes manufacturing, packaging, shipping, waste, and end-use of the products. 

I would be lying if i said i don’t absolutely love the thrill of finding a good discount, especially if we’re talking about the Albert Heijn bonus box which I may or may not check every single week. However, it’s important to recognize that the rush to provide a multitude of items at a low cost can come at a steep price for those involved in the production process. 

Ethical concerns such as compromised working conditions, inadequate wages, and exploitation of vulnerable workers within the global supply chain are often hidden behind the tempting discount price tags. For example, Amazon sells most of their items from department stores that are made by people in factories across the globe who are paid significantly less than what their labor is worth, according to Green America.

A recent article published by The Guardian sheds light on the harsh working conditions of Amazon employees. In the article, Daniel Olayiwola, a picker at Amazon in the US, explains how mandatory extra overtime during peak season puts immense pressure on workers to meet productivity quotas. Workers fear termination if they don’t have enough unpaid time off accrued to be able to refuse the mandatory overtime shifts. 

During last year’s Black Friday, several Amazon workers went on strike, demanding higher wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions. Complaints about long hours, intense productivity expectations, and inadequate break times were frequently raised. Workers sought improvements to create a safer and more manageable work environment.

Reflecting on the dark side of consumerism during Black Friday reveals a complexity that goes beyond flashy discounts. It is essential to consider the environmental, ethical, and social consequences of our purchasing choices, not only during Black Friday but throughout the year. 

We have been conditioned to be attracted to deals and discounts, but we must strive to gain some perspective and understand the story of the environmental damage and overworked people involved in making our Amazon parcels arrive in less than 24 hours. 

We need to see the true cost of our consumption choices and take responsibility for the impact they have on our planet and society.