Small Business Saturday is really important

Small Business Saturday DOES Matter

The past couple of years, I've grown pretty fond of Small Business Saturday, the somewhat increasingly popular shopping day following Black Friday after Thanksgiving

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My hometown, Berwyn, and neighboring communities, Oak Park, Forest Park, LaGrange Park, etc. have lots of smaller mom and pop shops, coffee stores, and all the more which tend to thrive on this specific day. This year I made the decision to journey to the south side of Chicago, in the Pilsen neighborhood. Don't worry, this area was not decided by random chance. This was a deliberate decision to visit a very close family friend, who owns a shoe store with much success over the last 40 years.

The last time I visited the store was right around my 22nd birthday (6 years ago)! And after timeless chances of failing to make the trip, what a time more fitting than to support a Chicagoland small business. To my biggest surprise, the trek down to Pilsen was smooth as butter on bread – with practically zero traffic. I parked and made my way across the street to find the very great yellow awning with the store's name dead center, Burdeen's Shoes.

The store didn't have any customers in it, but a few workers in the back chatting, and I was immediately greeted to a very happy, smiling, and recognizable face, one of my best friends' fathers, Frank. We shook hands, greeted each other, and began to catch up and converse on a variety of topics, while I was incredibly impressed by not just the presentation of the shoes, but the variety and selection. There was ZERO question I would leave this store with a purchase - it was happening.

I do have many pairs of shoes, but you can't ever have enough Nike classics, such as the Jordan Retros. In fact, the shoes I wore that day, were the last pair I purchased at Burdeen's, a Chicago Bulls/Blackhawks-themed red, white, and black style mid-top. From this, you can probably assume I have a set form of colors I prefer in shoes, red white and black. The options for today's visit were heavy and plentiful, to the point where I remember saying "I'm just trying to decide what I want to try on!"

After a couple of passes, back and forth, finding the Kevin Durant's, Kyrie's, LeBron's, and other various Nike styles, I found one that struck my eye, the LeBron James Witness 3. This is a sleek, all black, cloth shoe, with a red sole and Nike symbol. There are some slightly other detailed marks, LeBron's signature logo, and the imprinted tongue of the lion symbol as well. When I put the shoe on, I knew it was the first winner.

There we were, one pair down and another to go. Now, I was really struggling. However, Frank's company and conversation helped me in what would become my next decision – an almost identical, yet slightly different, version of the Jordan Retro 1 High OG. As I tried on the Kevin Durant's, I wasn't completely sold on them – and I expressed my appreciation for the Blackhawks and Bulls color scheme on shoes. Then, the lightbulb went off for Frank, he said, "You know what? I forgot I had these, but since you're a size 12, they should work – I'll be right back."

As he returned, he had an all-black box with a golden 23 and Jordan symbol on it…and then the thought occurred to me, this could be very similar to the pair I have now, and it indeed was, except this pair was even better. The Jordan Retro 1 Mid is a fantastic shoe, one that emulated the style of a Chicagoan, dedicated to his or her hometown teams, but can also be presented in fashionable style.

After trying on both pairs, looking at them in the mirror, and walking around in them – I had myself two new pairs of shoes. "But that's not all." The store also had a sports-filled variety of hats, to no surprise again! Winter hat options were great for the Bears and Bulls. There was a variety of New Era football, baseball, basketball, and Blackhawks hats. If there's one team I do not have a cap for, it's the Bulls. I decided on the New Era 3930 all Red, curved lid style-hat. In fact, I have it on as we speak.

This trip was an hour most certainly deserved to be spent, in extraordinary company. A visit like this brings back a lot of memories of growing up with one of your best friends. And now years later, here I was with his father, having a conversation and reflection on a variety of topics from sports to professional careers, the history of Burdeen's, living in the city, and many more.

Small Business Saturday matters because of people like Frank and Burdeen Shoes. These individuals spend their life working very hard, six to seven days a week of countless hours, providing for their family, while bringing an exceptional experience to a consumer. Without these smaller establishments, the "in person" valuable shopping experience ceases to exist! Congratulations to Frank and Burdeen's for 40 successful years – it's an honor to be a fan and customer after all of these years.

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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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