So last week most retail outlets in Ireland reopened. There was more wailing and gnashing of teeth as droves of consumer-zombies queued around the block to get into Penneys [sic]. Images and videos of this spread across mainstream and unsocial media, as people complained about the irresponsibility of those gathering in large numbers.
That’s not what I am here to write about. I am more concerned about the fact that only now are people complaining about Penneys’ shoppers, when the company is built on fast-fashion, and is complicit in both mass exploitation and environmental destruction around the world. Not only do Penneys and other companies of that ilk have their clothes produced in sweatshop death-traps, like the one which collapsed and killed over a 1000 workers in Bangladesh, but the cheap, low-quality, disposable tat they sell ends up in landfill and oceans in no time. See The True Cost for all this in eye-opening disgusting detail.
Of course Penneys will claim that they are not supplied by sweatshop labour. But this is no more than plausible deniability. They get from one supplier, who outsources the manufacturing of cheap clothing to another, who do the same to another, so that it all trickles down the chain to the modern day slaves, many of them children, who actually make the clothes.
So why isn’t the country outraged by the human rights abuses and environmental disaster that Penneys contribute to? In the great scheme of things, the coronavirus is minor. While consumer and convenience culture continues unabated, our hurtling towards complete ecological catastrophe will remain unchecked. It’s all well and good taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus, but it won’t matter much in the long term when the planet soon becomes virtually uninhabitable.
The outrage needs a bigger focus. All I thought of when I saw the queues for Penneys, and heard tell of a five-hour queue for IKEA (seriously, how much damage did these people do to their homes in the few months that shops were closed?), was that when normality, if there is such a thing, resumes, humankind with continue to drive itself, and most of the rest of life Earth, to extinction.
Hope the cheap jeans were worth it.