It seems that the winter holiday shopping season starts earlier every year. There was a time when families would actually wait until the day after Thanksgiving to stab one another over discounted toys from Wal-Mart. But when Black Friday inexplicably commenced at 6 p.m. on Thursday Nov. 28, that idea seems like nothing more than a quaint memory.
The progressively emerging holiday shopping season comes at a major cost to the employees, who are forced to work extended hours while paid minimal wages. Though many of these workers are employed seasonally and are just looking to pick up extra cash, it is important to keep in mind the year-round labor practices of companies that cash in on the holiday season.
Wal-Mart and Whole Foods workers staged protests across the country on Black Friday with demands for better pay and benefits.
In a press release, Colby Harris, a Wal-Mart associate from Lancaster, Texas, said, “Unfair labor is working full time and living in poverty. Unfair labor is seeing your health care premiums skyrocket year after year. Unfair labor is being denied the hours needed to support your family. Unfair labor is being punished for exercising your freedom of speech and association.”
One would think that Wal-Mart, a company that made $15.7 billion in profit last year, could afford to treat its employees at least slightly better.
It’s not just big-box retailers that are guilty either. Amazon’s working conditions are tantamount to sweatshops. Employees work 12-hour shifts in sprawling warehouses and are subjected to mandatory overtime.
In 2011, one worker in an Allentown, Pa. factory quit after witnessing numerous coworkers pass out from the heat inside the factory, which consistently surpassed 100 degrees. Furthermore, when a worker from a different factory was terminated for suffering heat exhaustion and missing work, an Amazon representative contested her case for unemployment benefits.
It is mildly understandable, however, that companies know that shoppers will always flock to bargains, so the fault is not all that of the companies; consumer demand allows for the trend to continue and develop as a necessary part of Thanksgiving and the holidays as a whole.
As consumers, our backs are up against the wall. Shopping ethically is simply too costly for the average American. Not to mention, most consumers don’t think twice about patronizing companies that profit from child labor during the 11 other months of the year.
As long as our desire for cheap things supersedes concern for the welfare of the workers who bring them to us, companies will continue to cash in. Keep that in mind this holiday season.