Today (24 November) is Black Friday 2023. Together with Cyber Monday (and, increasingly, the weeks before and after it), it is the main shopping event of the year, when major retailers purport to offer huge discounts to entice shoppers.
Originating in the US, Black Friday was brought to the UK mainly by Amazon in the early 2010s. In 2022, UK consumers spent a record £9.42 billion over the Black Friday weekend – almost three times as much as on Boxing Day, which used to be the biggest shopping day of the year.
With the cost of living crisis limiting the disposable income many have to spend on gifts, it may be particularly tempting this year to trawl through the sites hunting for deals. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and this festival of consumption should be of great concern to Christians who want to honour people and planet.
For one thing, the great deals may not be all that they seem: a Which? study of 208 of last year’s deals found that only 2% were at their cheapest on Black Friday. They advise that customers should not feel “pressured to splash out on Black Friday as it’s rarely the cheapest time to shop”. It’s usually better to exercise patience, take a moment and ask if this is something you really need right now, and if you might be rushing into an unnecessary or overpriced purchase.
As many may know by now, Amazon – the main promoter of Black Friday deals – is a particularly controversial company. It received the 3rd highest revenue of all companies worldwide in 2022 at just over $500bn. Jeff Bezos, its owner, is the 3rd richest person in the world, valued by Forbes at $114bn.
Compare this with the wages and conditions of workers in Amazon warehouses, who this Black Friday will be striking in the largest industrial action in the company’s 30-year history. This includes more than 1000 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Coventry.
According to a comprehensive 2023 UNI Global Union survey, 51% of employees report adverse health effects, and 57% cite deteriorating mental health due to Amazon’s intrusive monitoring. A spokesperson for the GMB Union said that “we can no longer in good faith watch as our members walk into unsafe workplaces and endure poverty pay.”
We see the command to treat and pay workers fairly throughout Scripture (e.g. Deuteronomy 24:14-15, Malachi 3:5, James 5:4), because paying a fair wage to workers means giving justice and dignity to those in our employment. We can extend this principle to consumption, too: who benefits when we give our money to Amazon? What are better, more just forms of business that we could support instead?
Not only is Amazon failing to pay a fair wage, the company is also famous for its tax avoidance strategies. The Fair Tax Foundation found that over the period 2012-21, there was a $6bn gap between Amazon’s global tax reported (itself kept low via a combination of deductions and aggressive, though legal, avoidance) and actual tax paid.
Tax avoidance is not only an active refusal to contribute to the society you participate in (including, for example, relying on its roads for your deliveries, healthcare for your employees, spending on infrastructure, research and so on), but it also enables Amazon to undercut smaller business in our high streets, contributing directly to the worsening of our town centres and local economies.
Finally, we must also think about the impact of Amazon’s business model on the environment. An ideology of overconsumption drives us to further extract from the earth to produce more goods, and to further pollute the earth when we throw out what we don’t want. The always-available, super-fast, cheap and low quality nature of Amazon’s offering encourages this.
As those called to follow Christ and point towards a new way of living, the consumerist culture with Black Friday as its sacred festival must concern us. We encourage you to resist this relentless rush of shopping today, and ask the following questions instead:
- Do I really need to purchase this item? Will it improve my life and make me happier?
- Am I sure that I am getting a good deal here?
- What other models of business could I support? Are there local, independent shops, social enterprises, or co-operatives I could take my money to instead?
- How does this purchase impact on the environment – in resource extraction, production, delivery and packaging?
If you want to support the campaign against Amazon’s business model, visit makeamazonpay.com. If you want to find alternatives for the products you need, try Ethical Consumer. And if you want to help your church move away from relying on Amazon for the things it needs, check out our church buying guide.
 James Bloodworth’s 2018 book ‘Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain’ gives fascinating insight into the working conditions at Amazon and other low-paid/zero-hours roles. See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/17/amazon-warehouse-bernie-sanders for a brief overview of his reflections.