Consumers cannot be blamed for unethical consumption

Sustainable shopping is a privilege

Sutainable shopping is a luxury not everyone can afford.
While leading a clean lifestyle has always been important, it’s now become a popular trend. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to participate.
The digital age has brought awareness to sustainability and the exploitative nature of the production of goods. A rapidly approaching climate crisis and initiatives centered on conscious shopping have opened the door for conversation. Perhaps more than ever, the general public is discussing the role of the consumer going forward.
Over the last few months, young influencers have been receiving backlash for promoting shopping hauls from companies that promote  fast fashion such as SHEIN. Comments can be seen denouncing child labour and labelling these influencers as part of the problem. While promoting exploitative companies is not ideal, shaming consumers for not shopping ethically is wrong.
Companies like SHEIN provide low prices through unethical practices, be it poor working conditions or child labour to mass produce goods. The standards of this company’s operation must be questioned when they are providing 500 new styles a day. Other companies such as Forever 21, Zara, and H&M have also been attacked for negligence in their labour conditions and the strenuous environmental impact of their practices. 
The fashion industry has experienced exponential growth in the last 20 years and clothing production has doubled since 2000. The production of cotton and polyester is the most wasteful and 85 per cent of textiles gets thrown out annually. These companies will continue to ignore the climate crisis and abuse natural resources as long as their profits skyrocket.
Fast fashion corporations provide little to no information on their production process to protect their reputation and allow shoppers to be ignorant when purchasing. While "boycotting" these brands is good in theory, it’s not feasible for many people. Consumers can’t be faulted for flocking to clothing that’s accessible and inexpensive.
In Canada, 53 per cent of the population lives paycheck to paycheck and this number jumps to 80 per cent when talking about the United States. Society cannot expect everyone to prioritize buying ethical clothes when making ends meet is a task of its own.
The bottom-up approach to tackling fast production suggests people be conscious of where they buy from. Through the recycling of old materials and maintenance of ethical working conditions, some companies are changing the way products are bought and sold. The desire to reuse, reduce, and recycle is greater than ever.
Yet, as with anything that seems too good to be true, there’s a catch.
Sustainable clothing and living is expensive. Leading brands in the sustainable clothing industry like People Tree, Reformation, and Patagonia may be conscious, but their prices for a single item are often over $100. There’s a huge discrepancy in the socioeconomic status of those able to participate in ‘ethical’ shopping and those who can’t.
Sustainable brands have higher prices for a reason, as there are large costs associated with not cutting corners or taking advantage of the little man. Unfortunately, these costs price out many consumers who would support their businesses.
As a result, people often resort to buying secondhand and thrifting as a more cost-effective means to shop while limiting their environmental impact. Yet as thrifting has become trendy and popular in recent years, the corporations running these shops have recognized the profit potential and raised their prices.
The gentrification of thrift stores has created an environment that no longer welcomes underprivileged communities who rely on low prices. Limited availability of sizes, reselling of product, and price increases all limit those in need. Still, thrifting remains a good option when trying to limit your carbon footprint. Donating old clothes back into the thrift stream is a great way to be environmentally cautious and potentially help someone else.
This issue plaguing consumerism doesn’t stop at clothes, either. The food required to eat sustainably is often less available to low-income communities. It’s also hard to compete when the food industry pours 1.3 billion tons of waste into landfills yearly.
Food Secure Canada has pushed for legislation within the government to address the disadvantages faced by underprivileged individuals when healthy and sustainable options are more expensive than those included in wasteful production. Thankfully, Canada has adopted the National Food Policy to properly support local farmers, signifying a step toward providing all Canadians with a nutritious and waste-cautious future.
Even as positive moves are made, the exploitation of resources and people are at the heart of our capitalist society. The need to maximize profit overpowers the need to protect the vulnerable. Whether it be labourers in terrible working conditions or impoverished locals who require accessible thrift stores, the system we live in makes it challenging to lead a clean lifestyle.
In this world driven by profit and monetary success, there aren’t big enough incentives for corporations to care about the repercussions of their actions.
There isn’t enough financial liberty for people to vote with their wallet, either. Changes must be made in the modes of manufacturing and ideally, companies will recognize the detrimental impact of fast production.
We all have a responsible to limit our footprint. However, we can’t be tricked into thinking that the ability to live green isn’t a privilege afforded to a select few.
Rida Chaudry is a second-year Arts & Science student.

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