In the United States, the capitalist economy rests on the shoulders of big money corporations. I’m no economist, but I’ll wager that capitalism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Food, fashion and beauty products are all goods consumed en masse as a result of convenience and low prices. The corporations who produce these cheap goods consistently prioritize profits over people, actively contributing to the wealth inequality gap and environmental devastation.
How are these big-money corporations getting away with practicing some of the most disgraceful ethics? Largely, because no one knows how to keep them accountable. Capitalism today allows corporations to get away with inexcusable indiscretions that many consider criminal.
It’s time for consumers to take back the power and expose corporate criminals who take advantage of the system.
Exposing the fashion and food industries:
The fashion industry has an infamous history when it comes to shady production and advertising practices. Child and slave labor, dangerous working conditions and devastating negative impacts on the environment are all characteristics of how a large portion of clothes are made today. Inditex, considered the largest apparel retailer in the world and Zara’s parent owner, might be the worst of them all.
In 2015, Inditex faced fines in Brazil for accusations of employee abuses. Two years later, notes were found in clothes from a Zara store in Istanbul from workers abroad that read, “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.” Most recently, Zara, including brands H&M and Marks & Spencer, was discovered buying materials and goods from factories that pollute and devastate local people’s health in Indonesia, China and India.
Zara and Inditex profits have not been slighted by scandals. Sales have risen 9 percent in Zara stores and 41 percent online in the past fiscal year, boosting yearly profit by 7 percent. Low prices, unreal runway-to-storefront design turnover and low production costs make fast fashion so cheap. Inditex’s fast fashion business model is what other companies are quickly trying to replicate. This is a big problem.
The food industry is not much better. Nestle, one of the most profitable corporations worldwide today, gets away with criminal activity like no other. In the ‘70s, Nestle misled breastfeeding mothers from less economically developed countries into buying unhealthy and inadequate infant formula. There are still countries today that boycott Nestle for this reason. In a more contemporary context, Nestle is the world’s largest producer of bottled water, a practice that wreaks havoc environmentally. Nestle’s criminal kicker is the 2018 lawsuit against them for unlawful and undisclosed child and slave labor in chocolate production.
Inditex in the fashion industry and Nestle in the food production industry are not the only corporate criminals in their respective fields. Tyson Foods pollutes U.S. soil at unprecedented levels, Pepsi Corporation routinely cuts down our rainforests, and Amazon has become a power-abusing corporate giant shaking local economies to their cores.
Capitalism for Consumers
Today, capitalism in the U.S. is a system that benefits massive corporations more than employees or consumers. Some may say capitalism isn’t a choice in the U.S. today—consumers play by the game or risk social and financial insecurity. “Americans are ruled by a corporatocracy: a partnership of ‘too-big-to-fail’ corporations, the extremely wealthy elite and corporate-collaborator government officials,” stated Bruce E. Levine in a 2011 Huffington Post piece.
However, I disagree. Consumers have great potential for power when we decide to partake in the marketplace. We live in a time of excess, and purchasing goods from unethical companies isn’t necessary. Avoid fast fashion by thrifting, buying used and buying less, or research sustainable brands. We shouldn’t be purchasing from massive food corporations that don’t actively support global health and abuse their customers.
The classic advice to opt for local brands and businesses to support the local economy is invaluable. Giving money to our neighbors, rather than corporate oppressors, helps diversify local economies, is better for the planet, and balances unequal economic power.
We may have to participate in capitalism, but we don’t have to support corporate criminals. While recognizing the financial need to have access to products, consumers can collectively stay educated about purchasing decisions and, in the meantime, demand better production practices in large corporations.
Big business holds an unproportionate amount of power today. It’s time for consumers to take back this power and hold corporate criminals accountable.
I am at PSU pursuing an art history major and am minoring in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Studies and Design Management. I took on the role of opinion editor in summer 2018. When I started writing for the opinion section last year as a contributor, I was looking to learn about journalism and media; I can say I definitely have. As an editor, I focus on creating environments in which writers and readers can connect and engage in productive conversations exploring new points of view.