Opinion: Collective Consciousness is Not The Final Solution in Solving Global Issues

At a time of social unrest, small movements can lead to big actions if done right.

May 28, 2024 | By Sanjeeva Suresh
Demonstrators march for Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington

Society is currently undergoing a shift in collective consciousness towards social issues like animal cruelty, the sourcing of blood diamonds, and the Palestinian liberation movement. However, do these ongoing protests cause true structural change or are they merely small movements that will ultimately lead to less than impactful long-term actions? Decades-long institutions built on profits at the cost of human and animal rights require a systemic change which often comes from collective consciousness brought on by protests and disruptors. This is how change happens, disruption makes people sit up and pay attention. This was ultimately what brought the end of South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime, addressed segregation in the United States, and brought the ongoing institution of racial bias and police brutality in the United States to light. LUXUO examines how four major social issues of 2024 are going about making change and what needs to happen next.

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PETA’s Crusade Against Animal Cruelty

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been instrumental in the fight against animal cruelty, particularly in the luxury fashion industry. Similar to the JustStopOil protesters in the United Kingdom, PETA was often seen as a disruptive nuisance interrupting runway shows and speaking out against the use of furs and exotic skins. PETA utilised graphic and sometimes controversial public awareness campaigns and publicity stunts to relate their message. By using shocking imagery and provocative messaging, PETA has succeeded in raising public awareness about the treatment of animals in the fashion industry. Their campaigns have garnered widespread media attention, sparking conversations about animal cruelty and prompting consumers to reconsider their purchasing habits.

PETA has also championed conducting investigative exposés and undercover investigations into the practices of companies within the fashion industry, exposing instances of animal cruelty and exploitation. These exposés have led to public outrage and pressure on brands to improve their animal welfare standards or face reputational damage. As a form of corporate engagement, PETA communicates directly with luxury fashion brands, urging them to adopt more ethical and sustainable practices. Through petitions, letters, and public demonstrations, PETA encourages companies to stop the use of fur, leather, exotic skins, and other animal-derived materials in their products. In some cases, brands have responded to this pressure by implementing animal-friendly policies or discontinuing the use of certain materials altogether.

The true change, however, (one could argue) came at the shift in consumer awareness and selective spending. While PETA was instrumental in changing public perception and getting high-profile celebrities involved in endorsements, a change in mindset to where consumers wanted to put their money was ultimately what caused company policies to change. Under PETA’s list of ” Victories and Accomplishments“, the group includes Marc Jacobs’ ban on exotic skins, Hadi Shrine Circus’ ending of cruel elephant acts, Jason Derulo’s SeaWorld performance cancellation, a global online retailer ditching the sale of glue traps, and Tory Burch “sheds” use of exotic skins.

Animal Testing in Beauty Products

The fight against animal cruelty continues in the beauty industry. The beauty industry tests on animals to assess the “safety” of new ingredients and to ensure a new formulation is not dangerous. According to PETA, companies test on animals to “provide data that they can use to defend themselves when they are sued by injured consumers”. Similarly to fashion, the demand for cruelty-free beauty products has given brands an incentive to adopt cruelty-free certifications to indicate that products sold have not been tested on animals. Organisations like Cruelty-Free International and PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program provide certifications and logos that help consumers easily identify cruelty-free products. Companies like Lush have advocated against animal testing with a policy stating that the company will never conduct animal tests “on our finished products and will only purchase ingredients from companies that do not test on animals”. These policies are also making their way into law as March 2024 saw Washington became the 12th state in the United States to approve a law that prohibits the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.

Social media platforms provide a powerful tool for change as consumers use their reach to advocate against animal cruelty and hold brands accountable for their practices. Influencers, celebrities, and animal rights organisations often leverage their platforms to raise awareness about cruelty-free beauty and encourage followers to support ethical brands. The future should see further progression in alternative testing methods to replace animal testing in cosmetics which include non-invasive diagnostic imaging, stem cell research and 3D tissue culture (or organs-on-a-chip) for ethical approaches to assessing the safety and efficacy of cosmetic ingredients.

The Price of Blood Diamonds

Blood diamonds or conflict diamonds, are diamonds that are mined in war zones and sold to finance armed conflict against governments. The term “blood diamond” gained widespread recognition in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to the brutal civil wars in countries like Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These conflicts were fueled, in part, by the trade of rough diamonds, which were used to fund rebel groups and insurgencies. Conflict diamonds made their way into the luxury industry’s diamond supply chain where they are sold to consumers around the world. This created a moral dilemma for the luxury industry, as consumers and advocacy groups began to demand greater transparency and accountability in diamond sourcing practices.

While the luxury industry has made efforts to address the issue of blood diamonds through initiatives like the Kimberley Process and increased transparency in the supply chain, challenges remain. Consumers are increasingly demanding ethically sourced diamonds, leading to the rise of initiatives like “conflict-free” or “ethical” diamond certification programs. These programs aim to provide consumers with assurance that the diamonds they purchase have been sourced responsibly and do not contribute to human rights abuses or conflict.

For counter argument’s sake, there is a notion that if the blood mining industry is stopped it would have the worst effect on the works on the ground, individuals lowest on the structural pyramid. While yes, it would be the average worker who would be affected first, we should not use this as an excuse to fund a regime that further props up an inhumane institution. Consuming blood diamonds only fuels the demand and adds to the need for a wider labour force. For instance, if people stopped consuming shark’s fin soup, the shark fin industry would suffer but fisherman or individuals who make their living wage from what they catch at sea would not lose their entire source of income. Similarly, one would hope that the skills workers picked up during their time in mining would potentially help to uplift the local agricultural industries for instance. There should be an alternative to mining blood diamonds to discourage authoritarian regimes from bringing people into forced labour. In most circumstances, it is children who are affected the most, suffering brutal consequences if they do not fulfill their quotas. There also needs to be accountability in the sourcing of blood diamonds and options for alternative, ethically sourced diamonds.

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Gaza Genocide and Palestinian Liberation

Earlier today, Israel launched a barrage of missiles onto Rafah, where nearly half of the Palestinian population was told to evacuate and where they have been living in tents. Israel’s continued bombardment of Gaza and the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank have spurred a series of boycotts against companies that are funding and expanding their franchises and outlets in these illegal settlements in Palestine’s West Bank. From McDonald’s to Zara, the boycott movement then went to celebrities in what the internet called the “Blockout Movement” which was aimed at blocking celebrities who were not vocalising their support for the ongoing genocide in Gaza. The “Blockout Movement” was the result of what social media users deemed what they were seeing on their screens (or timelines) as a “dystopian” reality amid the backdrop of 2024’s Met Gala happening at the same time Palestinians were being bombarded by Israel. The Blockout Movement is also an attempt to undermine the revenue that celebrities make from brand partnerships.

The Blockout Movement was also sparked after TikTok influencer Haley Kalil posted a video using the lip-synced audio to the words “let them eat cake”, outside the Met Gala. The quote is often attributed to Marie Antoinette’s disassociation from the French people, which ultimately led to the French revolution. As Al Jazeera reports, Kalil’s video stirred anger because of the backdrop of the starvation crisis in Gaza. Insufficient food has been on the rise over the seven months of the war.

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Mass protests and encampments have started happening on the grounds of renowned universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. The protest is aimed at students demanding divestment from universities from funding Israel and requesting that a portion of their student fees get sent to rebuilding universities that have been bombed by the Israeli army.

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While the statement in the title, “collective consciousness is not the solution to solving global issues”, it is the part of first step public awareness as part of a long game in an effort to break down systems that have been set up to profit the rich and negatively impact society’s most marginalised and defenseless communities. With regards to Palestine, there is a reason why the United States has not called on a ceasefire and it is simply because the United States and Israel have strong diplomatic ties that trump human rights atrocities. Israel is effectively the United States’ foothold in the Middle East, promoting good relations between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states — notably Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Conversely, when one looks at South Africa’s apartheid, foreign governments had fewer qualms about imposing sanctions and stopping trade in the country because they had no skin in the game. There was no real vested interest for them to support South Africa’s occupation the way they do for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Therefore, being vocal, boycotting goods and perhaps even blocking a celebrity with millions of followers, while it may not bring an end to genocide, it sends a message. Small action is better than no action. While yes, collective consciousness can sometimes be oversimplified, bad publicity and calls for transparency are one thing but true change requires consumers to “follow the money” and hit large corporations where it hurts — their pockets.

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