The United Nations set out an agenda of Sustainable Development Goals for nations to implement in order to help tackle climate change. This is comprised of 17 goals that can promote the preservation of the climate in a myriad of ways, such as affordable and clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities. These goals also coincide with ethical issues within society, such as inequality and deprivation, as these also play a role in the sustainable development of society.
In particular, I will focus on the Sustainable Development Goal of responsible consumption and production as I believe this is a vital aspect in tackling the climate crisis, as well as the exploitation of workers.
Fast fashion and consumption
Consumer capitalism has grown exponentially since the industrial revolution and has caused devasting effects to the environment.
One of the leading causes of patterns of consumption regards the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion encourages clothing to be disposable due to its cyclical nature; consumers are constantly trying to keep up with the luxury trends in a way that meets their socio-economic status. This is where fast fashion brands come in, such as H&M, to satisfy consumer trends at an achievable price. Although many individuals recognise these patterns of consumption, many do not challenge them in the same way as other ethical practices. A study showed that the consumers displayed perceived notions of concern towards environmental and social implications of consumption. However, these same concerns were disregarded in relation to fashion; many consumers exhibited signs of a lack of guilt towards the disposability of fast fashion.
However, by challenging the way we view the nature and value of clothing, we can help undo the beliefs and attitudes we have of the fast fashion industries. This involves looking at the relationship between the production processes involved in the industry and the consumer.
One approach we can take in challenging the way we view consumption within a capitalist society is by changing the way we value our commodities.
Commodities refer to goods we purchase, such as clothing, which are often viewed as disposable in capitalist society as a result of continuously changing trends and the accessible nature of these commodities. We often value these commodities in terms of their usefulness, as well as their exchange value in relation to other commodities. However, if we begin to evaluate the value of our commodities as products of labour, this can help us to look at our commodities differently and reduce the disposable nature of them.
This idea comes from the origins of Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Marx believed that commodities were no longer recognised in relation to the labourer, and this disconnection prompts us to minimise the value of our commodities. Marx referred to this as his theory of commodity fetishism. Consumer capitalism creates a routine of social repression; individuals forget the true origins of their commodities and the labour involved in the making of them. Commodity fetishism causes weaker social relations between the worker and the consumer which promotes businesses into exploiting workers as their efforts are no longer recognised. Cheap and exploited labour allows us to purchase lower costing commodities which fuels the cycle of disposability.