According to Sarah Banet and Roopali Mukherejee activism has been overtaken by neoliberalism. The overtake is defined as Commodity Activism. This concept is a direct response to the basic idea on which neoliberalism is grounded, which is that through supply and demand the market will regulate itself. Therefore, as activism becomes a trend, the market becomes larger for activist targeted merchandise, and gives companies another way to exploit culture for profit.
According to Alison Hearn, there are two main causes that lead to the exploitation of activism for profit by private companies. The first is the movement of the economy towards branding. The movement towards branding implicates that companies are no longer trying to sell a product, but a lifestyle. Therefore, brands will immediately embrace whatever is the new trend in mainstream society and use it for their benefit. The embracement of companies of what is trendy leads to the second cause of why activism is exploited by companies. The second cause is quite simple, activism is trending and the idea of being an activist makes people feel good about themselves. It helps people feel part of something bigger.
The concept discussed becomes clearer when directly applied in reality. For example, in the case of the organization “Refugees Welcome”, there is no real direct commodification of their activism by the organization itself, except on the website where one can donate. These donations are meant to be a way for people who do not have the possibility to welcome someone in their homes, to somehow contribute to the cause. The donate button on their page is a way for people who believe in their cause can make donations, but the organization itself does not try to make a profit from these donations.
However, the slogan and the purpose of the organization have been exploited by third parties who believed the idea to have potential, not by the company itself. This is visible on the online shop No Gods No Masters where not only “Refugees Welcome” hoodies, t-shirts and other garments are for sale, but also any other sort of activist movement is made into profitable merchandise. In the case of the pro-refugee activism there are a vast range of different shirts with their own graphic design and slogan. From “No Borders No nations” to “Refugees welcome” written in different ways.
The website is a clear example of how even actual activism is at times used for profit by other parties, even without the participation of the activist movement or organization. In fact, the website has actually different sections dedicated to different types of activism, such as: LGBTQ, Antifa and anti-racism.
Furthermore, the website also offers a list of trending t-shirts such as Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter and Antifascist Action, as well as Refugees Welcome, as shown in the photo below. This is an example of how movements that are trying to bring change to the society can actually be exploited by third parties that just want to sell merchandise for profit.
In a system that is driven by profit, there will always be people exploiting ideas and commodification will always be at the heart of the system. Commodification flourishes through capitalism and manages to expand its influence. The power of capitalism comes from its power of commodification, as it manages to materialise and remove the deeper meaning from anything, even movements such as Refugees Welcome who’s only aim is to help people. What is even worse is that capitalism manages to profit even were there is no profit to be gained, as in the case of Refugees Welcome who’s sole intent is to help refugees integrate into society.