An activist from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate change group, wearing a mask depicting Jeff Bezos, takes part in a protest outside of Amazon's headquarters in central London on Nov. 26. (Photo: AFP)
While many US and European shoppers went on a spree on Black Friday, some groups hit out with boycotts and campaigns against what they deem unfair business practices and the unbridled consumerism of the end-of-year holidays.
In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving -- celebrated the fourth Thursday in November -- is marked by frenzied deal-snagging as retailers offer sales to kick off holiday shopping in earnest, with European companies jumping on the bandwagon in recent years.
Adobe's holiday season shopping forecast expects $910 billion in global online spending in November and December, an 11 percent increase over 2020, despite inflation and supply chain disruptions.
But while shoppers opened their wallets, some workers, organisations and retailers were taking a stand against what they see as the extreme excesses of Black Friday.
"It's ridiculous to have a day so profitable to owners where workers get paid the same as always," said one member of a popular Reddit "anti-work" forum (r/antiwork), which has more than a million members.
Membership of the forum swelled this autumn. That growth coincided with a record 4.4 million Americans leaving their jobs in September, a phenomenon dubbed the "Great Resignation".
The thread sees support for the "Black Friday Blackout" campaign, which encourages Americans not to work, and especially not to buy anything, the day after Thanksgiving.
Online retail giant Amazon, which launched its promotional campaign on Thursday and pulls in juicy profits over the winter holiday season, is a top target for anti-Black Friday actions.
Activists from environmental group Extinction Rebellion on Friday blockaded more than a dozen Amazon distribution centres in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands to protest the company's social and environmental practices.
It blocked the entrances to the UK sites using bamboo structures and so-called lock-on devices, and displayed banners featuring slogans like "Black Friday exploits people and planet."
An Amazon spokesperson said it took its responsibilities, including a commitment to be a net-zero carbon emitter by 2040, "very seriously."
"We know there is always more to do, and we'll continue to invent and invest on behalf of our employees, customers, small businesses and communities in the UK," the spokesperson added.
"Make Amazon Pay," an international coalition of 40-odd organisations, including Greenpeace and Oxfam, accuses the Seattle-based titan of putting profits before the well-being of its employees. It is supporting employees who wish to demonstrate against their working conditions or go on strike Friday.
In Britain, the federation representing independent retailers, Bira, estimates 85 percent of small retailers will boycott Black Friday to protest the "unfair" dominance of online behemoths that has been accentuated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Whilst we, in some ways, admire what Amazon does, the pandemic simply highlighted the unfair playing field between High Street shops and online retailers," said Andrew Goodacre, the CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association.
Amazon and major chains are also being accused of sale schemes deemed dishonest.
Internet users and groups charge retailers with inflating prices leading up to Black Friday to then lower them on the day.
A British consumer association called Which? has calculated that 99.5 percent of products sold during last year's Black Friday at six major retailers -- Amazon, AO, Argos, Currys, John Lewis and Richer Sounds -- were sold at the same price or cheaper at other times of the year.
"Businesses will purposefully inflate prices prior to the sale," complained one Reddit user.
"Then they can make the sale look better by saying 'NOW ONLY $499 INSTEAD OF $1,299 WHAT A DEAL' when like 3 weeks before the sale the same item was literally $499 or close to it."
Black Friday is heavily vilified for its environmental impact.
Since 2018, the "Green Friday" collective has organised workshops and conferences to raise awareness on the issue in France and Belgium with the support of the Paris City Council.
The "Make Friday Green Again" network, launched by the clothing group FAGUO, brings together 1,200 French brands in favour of "more reasonable" consumption, encouraging recycling, repairing items and buying second-hand products.
Some brands are also taking individual action, such as Swedish furniture titan Ikea and US outdoor retailer REI.
Since 2015, REI has organised an #optoutside campaign during Black Friday, closing its stores against the crush of shoppers typical of the day, and encouraging employees to spend time with family and friends.
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