As the holidays approach, retail stores are visited more often requiring many more workers, and usually, college students such as ourselves will go back to their hometown job for the holidays. The holiday season is great for hours and a nice paycheck for presents, but it is a very stressful time to work. Here are ten thoughts every retail worker has once the holiday season comes to a close.
Growing up in a country where freedom is always a right and expectation — whether you live in the United States or one of the other 86 "free" countries — it is easy to believe that, compared to the well-known 1800s slave trade, we are doing pretty well when it comes to civil liberties, freedom, and overall social welfare. Documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) have been approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations, meaning that the vast majority of nations have agreed that every individual has the right to basic human dignity.
Despite this significant progress, however, there are 45.8 million people enslaved today, more than any other time in world history. The United States Department of Homeland Security has launched the Blue Campaign in light of this growing industry, hoping to raise awareness of the human trafficking that persists in local communities. Additionally, you can watch this video for a summary on the Global Slavery pandemic. I will write about the problem of human trafficking in the United States on another day; however, global slavery affects us whether it is in our city or halfway around the world. In fact, companies that you purchase from every single day use slave labor for their work instead of paying employees a fair wage.* Don't believe me?
Here are five companies that are using slave labor to make their products TODAY, and where you should shop instead.
Nestle is one of the largest companies that has consistently carried out human rights violations all over the world. Not only did they illegally take water from California during the drought in 2015, but in the 1970s they got third-world mothers to use infant formula by selling it at reduced prices, and then when the mothers could no longer breastfeed, they raised the price of formula so much that many children were malnourished and starving.
Their most recent problems revolve around slavery in the cocoa industry. In 2009 several former child slaves sued Nestle because they were trafficked and forced to work on Nestle farms in Cote d'Ivoire. Another suit was filed by former child slaves in 2014, stating that "Studies by International Labour Organization, UNICEF, the Department of State, and numerous other organizations have confirmed that thousands of children are forced to work without pay in the Ivorian economy." In 2016, the Fair Labor Association executed an assessment of Nestle in Cote d'Ivoire. They claimed that 70% of Nestle farms were not trained on the prohibition of forced labor. Further, they stated that "there is no process in place to monitor, report, and remediate cases of forced labor at the farms." With this in mind, they did find evidence of potential forced and uncompensated labor. Additionally, they found evidence of child labor—many of these children never enrolling in school — in which children were getting paid little to nothing, and often working in dangerous conditions.
INSTEAD: buy from Ben & Jerry's or Theo. They will satisfy your sweet tooth and are Fair-Trade guaranteed.
Nike has REALLY cleaned up their act in the last several years, but with a standard of no slave labor, they still have quite a way to go. In 1992, activist Jeff Ballinger published an exposé in "Harpers" that revealed the story of a child in Indonesia working in disgusting conditions, and for a mere 14 cents per hour (far below the minimum wage in Indonesia at the time).
Since then, Nike has begun to report supply chain information. The most recent report claims that, in 2016, only 86% of their factories were up to the minimum standards they set. Though they give a good indication of how far the company has come, these standards are set by Nike and assessed internally, making it difficult to compare standards to a universal one.
INSTEAD: shop at Patagonia! All products here are Fair Trade Certified!
Starbucks claims a mission for ethical sourcing, meaning their company policy requires them to abide by a standard of "ethical sourcing" that they have created. They only have two Fair-Trade coffees available for purchase. After the development charity Oxfam reported that Starbucks was depriving Ethiopian coffee growers of $90 million every year, Starbucks was challenged by the public eye to “clean up their act,” and did so by creating their own “ethical sourcing” standards, that they implement themselves, and certify 99% of their coffee with. Whether or not these standards are viable, they are not Fair Trade Certified at this time.
The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of locations and goods that use forced and child labor. Starbucks lists coffees from countries such as Guatamala, Kenya, Costa Rica and Panama; however, none of these single-sourced coffees are certified by them as “Fair Trade.” Rather, they are all regions that are known to use child labor.
INSTEAD: buy the Starbucks Italian Roast and Café Estima; they are certified by Fair Trade! You can also order online from Café Justo, Jurang and Equal Exchange —entire companies dedicated to producing Fair Trade coffee.
A 2016 report stated that as of December 31, 2015, 31 out of 72 H&M suppliers were using illegal contracts. In other words, these contracts allowed for wrongful termination. Now I know what you are thinking: the current system of hiring/firing in the U.S. is full of problems, and it takes way too much work to fire a bad employee in most cases. Well, the situation in countries like Cambodia and India are a little different. Often times, employees of H&M will be forced to work for excessive overtime hours—far beyond the legal limit—with no increase in their weekly take home pay. They are also often working in sweatshop conditions, with no breaks and unsanitary environments. Moreover, the contracts allow the factory to fire a worker for refusing to work these long hours. In fact, a garment worker in Cambodia stated: "We often get sick around once a month. We don’t eat enough and work too much trying to maximize the piece rate. Also, we don’t stop to go to the bathroom. We often work through lunch breaks or go back into work early, so there is hardly any time to rest."
INSTEAD: shop at one of these other retailers that are guaranteed to have fair-trade labor!
Well, this one is probably the least suprising yet. According to a 2016 report by the Wage Alliance on Walmart's value chain, Walmart refused to sign the 2013 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh that 200 companies signed following the collapse of Rana Plaza. It also stated that all 14 factories in Cambodia were studied, and they all violated local overtime laws consistently, with some forcing 14 hour work days without overtime pay "in sweltering heat, without adequate supply of clean drinking water or any breaks." These same conditions were expressed by workers in factories in India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. The report continued to list countless instances of workers given severely less than they were promised, or even cases where owners of factories fled without paying workers at all.
INSTEAD: OK, I know it's hard to pass up Walmart prices. However, here is a full list of companies that are fair trade. Even if you start small, I know you can find a way to cut back on your slavery footprint! Want to know how many slaves work for you now? Visit the Slavery Footprint mission to find out.
*I use the term “fair wage” because many people who are enslaved are trapped in a cycle of debt bondage. This means that an individual or family works for pennies per hour to pay off an ever-increasing debt. Oftentimes this debt is passed down for generations. To learn more about debt bondage and other forms of slavery, visit the non-profit End Slavery Now, here.
I arrived to work one evening in late December 2018 expecting just an ordinary shift.
Everyone who was working that night had been called to a meeting to discuss that evening's plans. Before the meeting ended, my AP manager (whose job I still know nothing about) informed us that he was leaving the store next Friday and that we should all look for jobs somewhere else.
At this moment, I knew our store would end up closing down.
I worked at a Kmart that had been around since the 1970s. I used to go there when I was younger and buy things like video games, toys, and even VHS tapes. After a certain point, I didn't really buy anything from there anymore. One day I walked in and found out that they had completely removed the video games section in expectations of shutting down soon. But that wouldn't happen for another three years.
I'm currently unemployed. So are many others as a result of retail giants like Sears, which owns Kmart, going bankrupt and shutting down.
This has been a huge trend within the past decade. With the rise of Amazon and the evolution of the internet, it is becoming harder for retail stores to make money. The video game section removed at my Kmart was probably removed due to not making enough income to justify keeping it.
Right now, I can open up my phone, select the PlayStation app and purchase the newest "Call of Duty." This takes less than 5 minutes to do. Now if I wanted to go to my former Kmart and purchase the newest "Call of Duty," I'd first have to walk to the video game section in the back of the store, get an employee to unlock the case it is in, then stand in line to purchase it.
Depending on how busy it is that day, this may have taken over 10 minutes. The convenience factor is a big reason why something like Amazon has thrived.
You may not be able to get what you want right away, but you also don't have to deal with annoying shoppers and long lines.
At one point, Sears was basically Amazon. It had a large selection of merchandise within the Sears catalog, which at one point was the equivalent to Amazon's website. Unfortunately for Sears, they were overtaken by Amazon and many other retail chains because they were too slow in taking their catalog online, allowing you to make purchases online as Amazon does.
Sears has declared bankruptcy and will most likely be gone in a year.
Sears will not be the only retail chain to potentially close.
GameStop has not declared bankruptcy yet, but it may by the end of this year since they are slowly losing money. Other stores like Family Dollar and Gymboree are also losing money, which has resulted in the closing down of multiple stores.
I don't want to make it seem like Amazon is this big and evil company that is solely responsible for shutting down the poor, innocent stores. These stores, especially Sears, had their chance to adapt and failed.
GameStop, in particular, has been constantly made fun of for how they force their employees to annoy customers with questions about video game pre-orders. Did they ever fix this issue? Of course not, and now there are tons of articles speculating about how they may go bankrupt.
Not adapting to sell online isn't the sole reason for these retail chains failing as a business. But the fact that they don't listen to their customers could also have contributed to their downfall.
In the near future, I don't think there will be that many retail store chains around anymore due to poor business decisions and Amazon. Shoppers have asked for convenient shopping experiences and they now receive them due to the evolution of the digital marketplace. This wish for convenience may have doomed retail stores, since not all of them can really keep up with a company like Amazon.