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Gluttony, overconsumption, and hidden sin: how capitalism casts a veil over the production of the

Writing by Lola Carver, photography by Isabela Caramico.

It would be hard for most of us to deny that the excitement of a new parcel in the post is unmatched. Not only the physical product itself, we yearn for the thrill of something shiny and new, delivered smoothly to the door. Capitalism packages the consumption of their new products as being transformative on an internal level. These leggings will make you love your body! This cream will boost your self-confidence by 1000%! Come now, erase that insecurity you didn’t know you had! Consumerism is reliant on creating and then solving the problems of the masses. This generates a perpetual need to buy the next new item, for fear of being left behind. When having the next new thing is marketed to us as being metamorphic, we view them as being the solution for superficial problems, which is of benefit to companies aiming to sell more. However, this constant need to buy and buy at such a high rate is reliant upon an equally constant means of production. Underpaid and overworked factory workers are disguised behind the veil of the consumer’s excitement of shopping, the hidden sin of our gluttonous consumerist culture. The environmental and human tragedy and overconsumption is concealed behind a universal marketing campaign that new is good.

 In 2007, market research firm Yankelovich reported that the average person is exposed to around 5,000 adverts every day (1). Just over 15 years later, this number has risen to over 10,000 adverts per day (2). We are constantly inundated with marketing designed to define every person  as a consumer. Be it through podcasts, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, on buses, or on TikTok buying has become an inescapable fact. Of course, advertisement has long been a part of our culture; however, the omnipresence of digital advertising has created a new era of increased emphasis on consumption. Social media moves much faster than the more traditional advertisements that you might find in newspapers or on television. These methods have a demanding production, requiring a whole background of people and tools to be achieved. Now, pictures or videos can be posted within a matter of minutes, often with very subtle references to the fact that they are adverts at all. This means that the cycle of trends and the appetite of the consumer have accelerated and intensified the constant need for more, as we are exposed to an unprecedented catalogue of products in our day-to-day lives.

Behind this round-the-clock sway of buying and subsequent waste lies a mountain of human impact. In order for goods to be made at such a cheap price to appeal to the consumer who desires to buy often, costs must be cut at all stages of production. One of the issues with this is that many larger companies outsource their manufacturing, meaning they are not responsible for the operations of the factories themselves, allowing them to rely on cheap labour through designated factories in countries where pay can be kept low and hours long. Take the fashion giant Zara for example: the average pay of a factory worker in Spain, its origin country, is €10 an hour (3). However, in Bangladesh, where Zara outsources some of its 3 production, workers can receive as little as the equivalent of 20 cents an hour, according to the Guardian (4).

Outsourcing in this way reduces the liability of larger companies for the welfare of their workers. One of the most famous examples of this is the collapse of Rana Plaza factory in 2013, a company which produced clothes for notable names like Mango, Primark, and Walmart. Causing the death of over 1,100 factory workers, this sparked obvious outrage and anger towards these brands. In the short term, it sparked conversations about social responsibility across global supply chains. Whilst legislation around building standards and transparency of global supply chains have improved as an immediate response, little has been done to rectify the inherent power imbalance between these powerful companies and the workers who are trapped by poor wages and the cycle of poverty. Poor wages result in workers facing a reality in which they are forced to work overtime to simply afford to live. 

These supply changes are purposely complex and difficult to understand. So, how far can we blame the consumer for leaning into this gluttony? On the one hand, by engaging in the practice of buying new and unnecessary items, we are putting a veil over what we know to be an unfair trade between businesses and workers. However, it is difficult for the average person to exist in a society centered around consuming without engaging in it. Removing oneself from a capitalist mindset demands a level of monetary freedom as more sustainable products may be more expensive due to more controls on pay. Leaning into this high rate of consumption is partly a construct of marketing and clever advertising campaigns which tell us that without something new, we as citizens are unfulfilled. 

The endless search for profit from businesses is gluttonous and hides behind it a world of sin that is concealed in favour of perpetual profit and growth. By providing an endless stream of new products, the eternal hunger of the consumer is nurtured and built into a client base that is reliant on buying new things to attempt to fill a superficial hole in their lives. The emphasis placed on the value of material goods by businesses creates a sense in society that without engaging in this consumerist culture, we are lacking fulfillment and are disincluded into the community who does have the thing that you want. This herd mentality of consuming in this way makes it difficult to detach, tempting us to involve ourselves in this gluttony, whether knowingly or not.


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