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Youth Consumers of Sri Lanka are Holding Brands Accountable – Now More than Ever

2020 Aug 11

The world’s young people – who make up the largest generation of youth in history – can lead a global drive to break the patterns of the past and set the world on course to a more sustainable future. Young people are traditionally at the cutting edge, and today’s youth have more information than any previous generation. Their dynamism, creativity and idealism can combine to shape attitudes toward demand and help create more sustainable industries and environment.

With the advent and emphasis on the importance of ethical and sustainable consumption, we have seen a massive shift in how companies and entities operate today.  Armed with access to knowledge and a platform to voice their concerns, the current Sri Lankan generation has forged a pathway towards solutions that could answer problems that have plagued our nation for centuries. 

Tomorrow’s biggest spenders want things done differently.

The youth – 18 to 32-year-olds – make up a quarter of the world’s population and are the greatest hope for scaling up sustainable and ethical consumption. Increasingly, millennials live in cities, 61% of them in Asia. And they have strong values: 71% want brands to be environmentally friendly and ethical, 61% want them to connect with a cause or social issue.

These young people could be the key to global action and are eager to collaborate with business. Indeed, at least 80% of global millennials have acted in support of a brand they trust and more than half would volunteer to test new products from these trusted brands according to a report published by the World Economic Forum.

What is the youth consumer of Sri Lanka like?

In the local context, we see a surge of active involvement in advocating for best practices in the industries. Abysmal wage and working conditions and even toxic narratives adopted by companies to manipulate and sell their products are now being called out, and young consumers are demanding much more than their ancestors. 

Our media spaces are littered with skewed and socially insensitive narratives that lay the foundation for toxic harmful behaviour to be regurgitated and enforced. Now we witness a massive push back from younger Sri Lankan consumers who go on to organise impactful boycotts and awareness campaigns that force brands and companies back to the drawing boards to revaluate their practices and narratives to better fit the consumer demand. 

Recently we saw a wave of retraction of skin whitening products and weight loss shams that did no good to the consumer, other than increasing the level of insecurities that led to more wasteful consumption. These initiatives were made through Twitter chains, Facebook posts, Instagram stories, web articles and more. 

Remember when an autistic boy was raped by staff members of a renowned cafe-chain of Colombo? The Lankan youth was not afraid to boycott or stand up against such unjust practices. And we have witnessed that trend with restaurants, transportation companies and even theatres being held up to strict standards and being coerced by external pressure to discontinue or strengthen their quality of service.  Local news and media platforms are buzzing with transgressions of the businesses they interact with every day, with youth consumers keeping an eye on them more than the specialised local commission. Dare not we forget the horrendous bed bug fiasco in our local theatre circuit or our transportation apps constantly falling short in terms of accountability and service, or even the numerous fast-food chains serving rotten food. 

How the digital era has catapulted the mission

Within seconds of a post going online, it could reach the corners of the earth, with retweeting, hashtags and all other tools used to garner attention and support, we are witnessing an unprecedented exchange of information. With such great information, comes great power. This great power has been utilised by the young Sri Lankan generation to catapult their concerns and views to those that need to hear it and can make the necessary change towards a sustainable future. 

2019 survey led by Hotwire found that 47% of internet users worldwide had ditched products and services from a brand that violated their personal values after hearing what was truly happening behind the brand. Protecting the environment and labour rights topped that list. 

The very landscape of traditional consumption has been altered forever by the demands of the younger generation and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of their impact and potential power. If international and local projections and trajectories ring true, we have in our hands, the most powerful generation as of yet.

But with great power comes great responsibility, while calling brands out on levels of standard and demanding accountability is good practice we also need to be vigilant and cautious when utilising such platforms. This double edged sword of power needs to be yielded responsibly. Us young consumers need to diligently exercise our rights and power over consumer patterns whilst acknowledging the delicate balance in our environment, understanding the true ramifications of our actions.