Nobody Said Working In Retail Was Easy

Nobody Said Working In Retail Was Easy

My mood can change by just one customer.

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At some point, everyone ends up working in retail or the service industry. It's a rite of passage before entering the actual workforce. However, no one ever tells you how difficult it will be.

All that people see when they think about retail is standing in a store for a few hours ringing up customers. Nobody thinks about stocking the shelves with new inventory, cleaning the store, and putting up new displays for the season.

Working in retail seemed like an easy job choice. I would learn how to do inventory, maybe fold some clothes, and that would be it. Somedays, it can be an emotionally draining job, depending on the type of people that come into the store.

On a day to day basis, most people that I ring up or help in the store are lovely. They are open to talking and are courteous if they have to wait while you ask a question for them. They make your day that much better.

There are always the regulars and after being there for a couple of days, you know what they are going to get. Their presence in the store is something you look forward to. It's the little things like that that make the job so much fun.

Then, there are the customers that are rude to you no matter what you do. It becomes mind-boggling how someone can act that way towards someone who is only trying to help them. It makes anything a nice customer would do seem pointless.

"The customer is always right," is a phrase often heard during my day at work. That is never the case. And while I will do everything to try and help you sometimes there truly is nothing that can be done.

The people that I work with, make my time there that much better. Talking to them makes the day fly by and any project we work on can be a fun one.

While working in retail can be fun, it's also very difficult. Every day is different depending on the type of customers. So remember, the next time you go out shopping, try to be nice to the people working in the stores.

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5 Companies That Still Use Slave Labor

Let's talk about the modern slave trade.
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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

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

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

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.

H&M

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!

Walmart

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.

Cover Image Credit: iragelb / Flickr

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Interested In Retail? Here Are 5 Of The Biggest Things That I've Learned In My 3 Years of Retail Experience

You learn to live with it.

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Have you ever worked in retail before? Are you going into retail? Is it something you're interested in or have ever been interested in or curious about?

Retail is a busy industry and can be the best thing you've ever done with yourself. It has days where you wanna quit and walk out. Don't we all have those days though? It happens in everything and in every industry.

After working in various places involved in retail over the course of 4 years, I'm able to come up with 4 of the biggest lessons that I've learned. These are things that will live in legend from my experiences.

They're not all good, but they're honest. Since honesty is the best policy, I found this appropriate to share.

1. Retail workers can't always win.

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I can't tell you the number of times that I've wanted to scream in someone's face when they're wrong about something. It's an urge, but I keep my cool since it would put my job on the line.

What I'm saying is that a price or discount isn't always what the customer thinks it is. People tend to read tags and see this big discount sticker, but don't read the fine print underneath it explaining that more money must be spent first in order to receive the discounted deal. This is usually the case, and this makes customers angry when they try to make a big purchase and are disappointed to see that the sale isn't what they saw.

Even though it's not my fault, I still get blamed for it. Whether it's "your sign should say that more clearly," or "I'd like to speak to a manager," it escalates to levels that it doesn't need to get to, but does anyway because people just love to be right and to prove me wrong.

In the end, most of the companies that I've worked for and currently work for end up giving the customer a courtesy discount or the deal that they're arguing for. The thing that always gets me is that the more they complain, the more often they'll receive these courtesies because they know that can just argue for it. Then, they'll come back and do it every time and always get discounts against company policies.

What I've learned: this is how the retail world works. People will bother the hell out of companies just for discounts when they very clearly can go elsewhere for their business. The retail companies end up getting taken advantage of, and people are only happy when they're right.

2. Excuse yourself before it becomes an issue.

Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

Most retail companies have strict policies about their prices and whether they'll change them for someone or not, and for very specific reasons. At least that's how it should be.

But here's the catch.

I've been in plenty of situations where the customer I'm dealing with gets very upset and wants to argue with me even after I've explained why I can't do something for them. Most of the time, I'll either get into trouble for it or it's against company policy and could involve my entire job.

What I've found useful is excusing myself from the situation before I start to argue back or get upset. I'm a person who gets upset when I'm being yelled at and immediately want to escape the situation or fight back.

Often, I'll call a manager up to speak to the upset customer and I'll go to the restroom and either cry or calm myself down. I notice I'll start to shake from anger and I'd rather not take it out on someone I don't even know and possibly lose my job.

Customers can be really mean and actually make me cry by making me feel bad about myself. It's happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again.

But it's life. I've learned to pick myself back up and move on. They're just people.

3. There are people who just don't care about you.

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This is a tough pill to swallow, but it couldn't be truer.

Often, customers will come in and shop and only be there for what they need. They could care less about your day, how you're doing, how tough your life must be outside of work, how stressed you are, etc. It's obviously common courtesy to ask how someone is doing (even if you don't actually care), and sometimes get mumbling, one-way conversations, and no thank you's afterward.

It's kind of like if you've had a bad day. How do you channel your anger or stress? Do you take it out on others? Do you vent?

Unfortunately, some people are selfish and don't care where they channel their anger. If you're the unlucky victim, I wish you the best of luck. It goes back to retail employees not always being able to win. It's how it works. It's not an equation, it's an improper fraction.

Sometimes I feel like I'm just seen as a robot. Ask the same person the same questions when they come to the cash register and get the same answers. It gets old and boring, but it's routine and it's the easiest way to get the job done.

Because of this, I feel that customers often see me as someone who will do as they command, kiss their feet and worship them.

But oh well.

4. You've gotta have tough skin.

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This one is simple.

People will curse you out, threaten to call corporate or say that they're going to tell all of their friends not to shop with you or give you poor online ratings.

It's important to understand how normal this is and that it can't be stopped. It happens to everyone and not all customers are going to be 100% happy all of the time. Plain and simple.

5. Remember to take nothing personally.

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A problem I've always struggled with working retail is the fact that I take anger or impatience personally. I think it's all my fault that someone can't be satisfied and that there's nothing that I can do for them.

As difficult as it's been to learn to live with this, it's important to.

For anyone in retail or going into retail, it goes along with having tough skin. It's necessary. In other words, have a hard shell for those specific people who are trying to get into your face about something.

When I can't process a return because it's too old or I can't find the price of something and I need a price check, and God forbid the customer has to wait for that, there's tension. I hate having to be confrontational or having to turn people down or away, but when the deed is needed, I deliver it.

If you've worked in retail already, you know that there's a ton more I could have listed. These are important lessons that I've picked up in my time with retail, and they won't be the last.

Happy shopping.

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