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.
Working in retail has really changed me and how I think about life. It is true that I am an optimist and an idealist to a fault, but those traits are overshadowed by the way I now react because of my experience working as a retail manager. I have been at my current job for a year now, and I have been the acting manager for six months.
Being a manager comes with a lot of responsibility. When you work under someone else, you can look out for yourself. But when you have people working for you, you have a duty towards nurturing them and their talents. I see myself as a natural leader, but I really had to come into my own when I first got promoted to the position. I didn't have any aspirations toward becoming a manager. I was offered it and so I accepted it.
Looking back, I really should have thought about the decision more. I said "yes" without weighing my options. Do the pros outweigh the cons?
Just like the food industry, retail workers deserve more credit than they are given for what they do and have to deal with on a daily basis. The higher up you go in the chain, the easier it becomes to be and feel overburdened by everything.
It has been six months and though I've grown, I still have a long way to go. I know being manager has taught me a lot:
1. People show their true selves when they don't get what they want
We want what we want, but we won't always get it. Some people cannot accept this as the truth in their reality and so they fight you. You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to not getting their way. When people don't get what they want, they will be their most real.
2. It's okay to walk away from a difficult person
When someone is intentionally difficult before you even begin interacting, it is okay to breathe and take a moment to process what just happened. Sometimes the best option is to walk away from the source of stress. Other times, it's okay to keep moving on around it because time is moving on, despite how you feel. If you can, you should step away from a difficult person. Maintain a semblance of sanity.
3. Keep work at work
Don't bring work home with you. Being on the clock means being the most productive you can be at the job. Once you clock out, you don't have to take on any other work-related problems. It is your problem when you are in charge, but after that, it's only your problem if you allow it to be. Have separate mindsets between your business and personal lives.
4. Being respectful doesn't mean allowing others to walk all over you
Everyone is allowed to have their own opinions. Opinions are not facts. You are not what they make of you. You don't have to bend to their whims. It is your job, they don't work there.
5. The customer is *not* always right
Allow customers to argue, but don't let any of them get away with imposing their way onto you. They want things and will behave in a manner that might get them what they want. Words are words. They only take on meaning when put together in a way that makes sense to others. Don't let a customer push their version of being right onto you.
6. You can argue with a customer
Arguing is not a shouting match. It is an exchange of views about a specific stance surrounding an issue. Persuasion can happen in either direction. Arguing is not bad. It can help with getting a better understanding of how people think.
7. You don't owe anyone a service
Do not give in to impossible demands. Just because you offer services, doesn't mean you are obligated to provide certain people those services. Customers choose the store. They are not forced into that choice.
8. Honesty, especially when harsh, is exactly what employees need from their boss
9. Establish clear boundaries with employees from the start
10. Being selfish is the key to winning and surviving every day
You have to preserve yourself: your mental health, your physical health, your energy, your time, etc. Think of you as the most important person. If you are not 100%, how will your team perform?