Holiday Season Memo: How to Shop Sweatshop-Free

Diana Novak

This holiday season, give gifts that only come at a cost to you by thinking about who made them. The next four weeks or so are a perfect time to consider those who labor to make what sits on America’s shelves.

When you head off to the mall with your list of who has been naughty and nice, don’t forget to read the Shop With a Conscience Consumer Guide” from Sweat Free Communities and take along this Sweatshop Hall of Shame report ” (PDF link). The resources, compiled by the International Labor Rights Forum and SweatFree Communities, respectively, make it easy to support fair labor during this stressful time.

The big names in the Hall of Shame”? Ikea, Abercrombie and Fitch, Wal-Mart (of course), Hanes, L.L. Bean, among others. As the ILRF reports:

Most of the companies listed employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages. When these workers attempt to form a union to voice their collective concerns, they face threats from management and risk being fired or even beaten. Many of this years’ inductees use suppliers that practice illegal tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize. Some of the companies mentioned weave shame into their clothing by continuing to use cotton sourced from Uzbekistan where harvesting is accomplished through forced child labor.

What’s the lesson here? Basically, a gift made by exploited labor is not a gift that should express appreciation for a loved one.

But you can support unionized labor in ways other than informed purchases. Over at Firedoglake’s brand-new Work in Progress blog, Michael Whitney reminds us to ship with UPS or USPS, not FedEx, which is almost entirely non-union. While UPS is staffed almost entirely by union employees, FedEx’s founder Fred Smith has maintained for 20 years that they will never recognize any unions, as Whitney notes.

After all, as we all know (or should know), the holiday season isn’t about stuff, but rather apppreciating others — including those who make the stuff, and ship it.

Diana Novak is a fall 2009 editorial intern at In These Times and a contributor to Chicago INNERVIEW. She moonlights as a trial lawyer assistant.
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