This year marks the 25th annual summit of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP25, which got under way today in Madrid — right on Cyber Monday.
Setting the stage for the climate summit is a mixture of holiday shopping successes and deal-finding, but also civic unrest and protest to swelling consumerism.
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 68 million shoppers plan to take advantage of deals and promotions this Cyber Monday — but not without criticism from climate activists.
Over the weekend, spending on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday became fodder for protests in New York, Madrid, Montreal, cities in France and elsewhere. According to Adobe Analytics, the former hit $4.2 billion for the first time in online sales, and the latter reached $7.4 billion. Cyber Monday is predicted to reach more than $9 billion in online sales.
Environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace challenged outright overconsumption with claims like “Buy Nothing Day” or “Green Friday” or “Block Friday,” even directly targeting the e-commerce supergiant Amazon.
For some, the company is a poster child for the woes of overconsumption and capitalism and incites reason to halt or divert spend more intentionally.
This weekend, climate protesters (some of which were from Extinction Rebellion) staged a sit-in outside the company’s French headquarters in Clichy and attempted blocks to a logistics center near Lyon, to which, Kristen Kish, Amazon spokesperson, said: “Self-interested critics have a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon, but the facts tell a different story. The truth is that Amazon already offers industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits, as well as a safe, modern working environment.”
WWD could not reach either environmental group prior to publication.
Those weren’t the only targets. Business Insider reports Jeff Bezos’ apartment is to be the grounds for a demonstration on Cyber Monday and just last week, Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island was subjected to protests. In Madrid, Greenpeace assembled to rally for the COP25 summit, with activists also present protesting Amazon. A tourist visiting the city told WWD that the gathering he witnessed in Madrid was small and “nothing like last time.”
“We encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a tour at one of our fulfillment centers,” said Kish, reiterating that each of Amazon’s safety programs and measures apply to all employees in its facilities — including full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary workers.
But the company, which is helmed by the second-richest person in the world, is still facing backlash even after enacting a Climate Pledge in September. Regardless, Amazon promised to not disappoint shoppers offering deals across every department and deeper discounts than ever, according to a press release.
For what it’s worth, this past Small Business Saturday may have benefited from the unrest. The shopping holiday, which was started by American Express in the midst of the recession in 2010, may be the strongest yet — judging on neighborhood morale.
Maegan Hayward, owner of East Village Vintage Collective and an active member of East Village Independent Merchants Association told WWD that the morale this past Saturday was “a lot more relevant this year,” due in part to social media and greater awareness from consumers.
Hayward is reclaiming the holiday, calling it “Shop Small Saturday,” and instead partnering with a local organization “FABnyc,” which is a coalition of cultural and community nonprofits in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
One of the Saturday promotions was a tote bag that featured illustrations of immigrant-owned small businesses in the neighborhood. Hayward sensed the totes created community and brought more attention to local storefronts, even if a store couldn’t afford to offer deals in line with “big businesses.”
“How do you even know what you are or aren’t supporting?,” asked Hayward, who said she and her family members have ordered from Amazon because it’s “affordable and convenient.” But with shopping small one finds a “direct [correlation]” — for Hayward, it’s in helping her to pay her rent.
In regard to the clothing waste problem and climate responsibility, more broadly, “turning a blind eye” will not suffice.
“If they just stop producing clothing for one month, that would make such a difference,” said Hayward, mentioning a fast-fashion retailer that her friend recently visited.
If the surrounding protests are any indication, it’s that this year’s COP25 summit will need to address the global climate emergency with actions of scale before entering what the U.N. calls the “defining year of 2020,” and that “big businesses” are faced with surmounting pressure to act more ethically.
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