Advertising and consumerism violate human rights and the environment – but international law gives us the tools to fight back.

A new advocacy guide reveals the devastating impact of advertising and consumerism on human rights and the environment, but shows how international human rights law can be a powerful tool in addressing the harm done.  

At What Cost? The impacts of advertising and consumerism on human, community and planetary well-being’ published by Adfree Cities, is a comprehensive guide for campaigners, policymakers, academics, grassroots organisations and all those concerned with upholding human rights and environmental protection. It shows how advertising revenue dwarfs resources for human rights: in 2020, advertisers globally spent $557.3 billion, largely promoting consumption. This is 14 times the $40 billion needed in 2020 to support record levels of global humanitarian assistance. But international law and government commitments can be, and are being, leveraged to address this colossal imbalance.

Report author Elizabeth Harrop said:

The advertising industry undermines our ability to make informed, ethical choices. We see this in careless marketing to children which can normalise violence, sexualised behaviour or unrealistic body image ideals; in irresponsible food marketing which promotes unhealthy food and encourages tonnes of waste and environmental damage; in our culture of excessive consumption which is a cause and effect of shopping addiction, and unhappiness; and in global advertising campaigns which promote a single ideal, eroding cultural diversity.”

Charlotte Gage from Adfree Cities said:

This new guide shows that we have a whole raft of instruments at our disposal in tackling the damage done by advertising and excessive consumption. In detailing the treaties and government commitments which exist to protect us, Harrop shows how we can challenge advertising and its threats to human and environmental well-being and prosperity. Packed with resources and signposts, this guide is an invaluable resource for campaigners and policymakers to have at their side when facing the huge and linked challenges of corporate power, human rights and environmental justice.”

The guide makes key and fundamental recommendations to address the overproduction and overconsumption encouraged by the advertising industry:

  • Reframe human beings as citizens and as caretakers of each other and the natural world, instead of as consumers.
  • Boycott advertisers who fail to respect human rights and the environment. 
  • Frame consumerism as a human rights and environmental issue.
  • Utilise human rights treaties and commitments  to hold government and corporations to account, and campaign against advertising and consumerism.
  • Celebrate the progress being made and maintain momentum and action.

Download the summary report and the full report at 

Published by