People don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in France, or Russia, or South Africa - but they do shop on Black Friday.
The U.S. sales phenomenon has spread to retailers across the world in recent years with such force that it’s prompting a backlash from some activists, politicians and even consumers.
Workers at Amazon in Germany went on strike for better pay on one of the busiest days of the year. Near Paris, climate demonstrators blocked one of the retail giant’s warehouses to protest over-production they say is killing the planet. Some French lawmakers want to ban Black Friday altogether.
Consumer rights groups in Britain and some other countries say retailers use Black Friday as a slogan to lure in shoppers, but it’s not always clear how real or big the discounts are. Other critics say it hurts small businesses.
Globalized commerce has brought U.S. consumer tastes to shoppers around the world, from Halloween candy to breakfast cereal and peanut butter, sometimes even supplanting local traditions.
To French activists, Black Friday is the epitome of this shift, a purely commercial event designed to boost U.S. retailers ahead of the Christmas holidays, the symbol of capitalism run amok.
“The planet burns, oceans die, and we still want to consume, consume, and therefore produce, produce - until we eradicate all living things? ... We will not betray our children for a 30% discount!” reads a manifesto by groups holding “Block Friday” protests around Paris.
In Britain, where the big winter sales have traditionally been held on the day after Christmas, companies have been adopting Black Friday marketing campaigns since about 2010. After a rise in business on the day in the first years, the volume of shopping has leveled off, with most of it happening online over multiple days.
Research by a U.K. consumer association found that 61% of goods advertised in Black Friday deals last year were cheaper or about the same price both before and after the event.
That echoes similar warnings in other countries. Russia’s consumer watchdog issued a long statement with tips on how to avoid getting fooled, like checking whether prices were raised before Friday to make deals look good or whether delivery costs are inflated.
The Black Friday advertising push has extended beyond the one day to Cyber Monday, with retailers in several countries spreading them across what’s often called “Black Week.”
In the Czech Republic, one electronics chain encourages shoppers - in English, of course - to “Make Black Friday Great Again,” in an ad featuring a suited man wearing the distinctive red cap used by U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
While the phenomenon is less widespread in Asia, some major companies like Japan Airlines use it as a slogan.
Broadcasters in South Africa showed people waiting in line to shop in one of the world’s most socially and economically unequal nations. The respected weekly Mail & Guardian newspaper decried in a scathing editorial how Black Friday is used to enrich big retailers.
“Like no other day, this Friday shows how broken the world we have built is,” it said.
Among other concerns is that Black Friday could hurt small businesses that do not have the vast marketing budgets and online sales presence of big retail chains or multinationals.
In Italy, for example, Black Friday falls outside the season’s strictly defined schedule for when the winter shop sales can be held. This year, sales cannot be held from Dec. 5 until Jan. 4, when stores are allowed to clear out stock. The fashion industry has warned that can hurt smaller retailers in a country that relies on them heavily.
A French legislative committee passed an amendment Monday that proposes prohibiting Black Friday because it causes "resource waste" and "overconsumption." France's e-commerce union, whose members are aggressively marketing Black Friday sales throughout November, has condemned the measure.
Dozens of French activists blocked the Amazon warehouse in Bretigny-sur Orge on Thursday, spreading hay and old refrigerators and microwaves on the driveway. They held signs in front of the warehouse gates reading “Amazon: For the climate, for jobs, stop expansion, stop over-production!”
The activists were later dislodged by police.
Cara Anna in Johannesburg, Colleen Barry in Milan, James Heintz in Moscow, Karel Janicek in Prague, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this report.