Published on Virgil LLC.
Crucial motives to the contemporary shift towards conscious consumerism have been in the mind of the western world since the environmental movement in the 1960s. In recent years, there has been a flow of data and research pointing out the facts that indeed, average temperatures are fluctuating at an odd rate and the labor force is being exploited by the capital and federal tyrants around the world. Since the movement, there has been a reaction from smaller NGOs, businesses, and proposed regulations that are combating this trend.
From employing the underprivileged in India to help clean up plastic waste to using advertising power to change consumer behavior, this shift has been squeezing into mainstream economic activity more consistently. For example, entrepreneurship has been leaping towards the environmental realm and discovering creative methods to employ people that can both help clean up the environment and put food on their table.
Featured in Sustainable Brands, Susan Farris’ article, ‘The Body Shop’s Fairly Traded Recycled Plastics Highlights Human Side of Plastic Crisis,’ summarizes the attempt made by an organization that calls itself Plastics For Change. Their recent approach focuses on trading in plastic waste and reusing them for products such as shampoo bottles.
Plastics For Change is a program which emphasizes reusing wasted plastics for products and employment while helping businesses reach their profit demand under their moxie. Their current motive is focused on Bengaluru, India, where poverty-stricken men and women, or Dalits as they’re known, walk around their local streets and pick up wasted plastics in street corners for mere dollar scraps.
In partnership with British cosmetic beauty company, The Body Shop, the plastic is then thoroughly cleaned and reused for their products such as their signature shea butter. They are titling this attempt as “the first Community Trade Recycled Plastics” program and are yearning for successful results throughout the process. Plastic for Change’s ability to spark interest among enthusiastic start-ups and environmentalists alike is a cause for optimism and will most likely catalyze the movement hidden in the global media.
Regarding employment, the labor force itself is a weak link, an entity whose rights and efforts are taken advantage of around the world. Most notably, there are countless suppliers of apparel that are trying to catch up with the instant-demand of online shopping. In response, these suppliers aim to minimize costs and the costs associated with workplace conditions — in sum, these suppliers minimize the quality of working conditions in their factories.
After the wave of online shopping nearly dominated the apparel industry, suppliers and manufacturers are now dealing with the tumult of increasing demands. Brands apply such immense financial pressure to meet this demand to suppliers, which lead suppliers to find any way to decrease costs and maximize supply. Thus, the industry is marked by a wave of reduced working conditions illustrated by the elimination of overtime pay, healthcare services, and retirement planning. These conditions are omnipresent in manufacturing factories in developing countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Featured in the Human Rights Watch, Mengxin Li’s report ‘“Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly” How Apparel Brands Purchasing Practices Drive Labor Abuses’, published by Human Rights Watch details the perils and impact of the new consumer-based demands (Li, Mengxin, “‘Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly’ How Apparel Brands Purchasing Practices Drive Labor Abuses”, Human Rights Watch, 29 April 2019).
Companies combat one another to meet their daily expectations, disregarding the human needs of the workers in their factories to achieve quantitative savings. As the article emphasized, the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, that killed over a thousand workers and injured over two-thousand was Bangladesh’s “wake-up call.”
The disaster exemplified the fragile practices performed by suppliers who are at the mercy of brands’ expectations. Many of the abusive practices include shorter deadlines to produce large quantities of product, unfair penalties for failure to meet production quotas, and low purchase prices.
“In 2016, an International Labour Organization (ILO) global survey of 1,454 suppliers across different sectors revealed that 52 percent of apparel suppliers said brands pay prices lower than production costs” (Human Rights Watch). Big brands that take advantage of their suppliers trigger a mirroring effect, in which suppliers then take advantage of their labor force to realize any profit.
The ultimate result is that the quality of work has diminished into a strangled mess. “Some common methods of getting workers to increase production output include restricting workers’ toilet breaks; shortening their meal breaks; squeezing “training” into lunch breaks or other breaks so the “production periods” are expanded; disallowing water breaks and other rest breaks” (Human Rights Watch). The Rana Plaza collapse wasn’t the first wake-up call for the consequences of labor abuse but is a potent enough force that has opened the consciousness of human rights in the industry.
Brands and enterprises themselves hold enough power and influence to change the dynamic of the game. Ultimately, however, consumers hold the most power. Now at the peak of the social media era, we now see numerous advertisements and marketing tactics from powerhouse brands such as Nike that cater to sustainability efforts. When Nike promoted its name with Colin Kaepernick with the “#resist” campaign, its overall sales increased by 31% in 2018.
Supporters of the campaign were eager to see a large brand associated with a cause relevant to our time. Large corporations do have influence over their power, although, it is the purchasing power of the consumers who decide which marketing strategies work. That being said, not all brands are successful in their marketing.
An article published in Sustainable Brands titled ‘Most Brands Support of Causes is Not Breaking Through to Gen Z’ (The Bridge To Better Brands, “Most Brands’ Support of Causes is Not Breaking Through to Gen Z,” 9 May 2019), dictates the attempts made by corporate goliaths such as Dove and Lush and pinpoints both their successes and failures to capture the youth for their cause.
Those who are categorized under Generation Z are typically born from 1995, representing the youth and young adults of today. ’Cause is Working, Your Marketing Isn’t: A Report on Brands Taking Stands 2019,’ found that although 66% of Generation Z consumers say that a brand’s social cause is one of their more important determining factors for a purchase, only 12% of the respondents say that the social cause was one of their “top of mind” associations with a brand.
Meredith Ferguson, the Managing Director of the consultancy firm, DoSomething Strategic, surmises from the study that brands “need to shout loud and proud about their social issues and cause platforms to break through the noise….it’s a missed opportunity to build relationships with consumers based on shared values.” Throughout the article, there are strategies that support her point. Strategies such as making your marketing campaign controversial, having your brand name focused on a singular social cause, and putting your product in the front and center of exposure. The move towards a circular economy will have to indeed be loud and clear.
With these circumstances still taking place near the quarter mark of the century, there seems to be a switch going off in the minds of many. The term “circular economy” has been toiled around in recent years at such a rapid pace, that it defies any effort to disappear into forgotten history. Many start-ups have already implemented social causes into their moxie, as bigger bodies tend to shift towards them as well. Hopefully, this process will be able to forestall the impending negative consequences and impacts.