17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Holiday Shopping List

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Ghandi

The sole purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. That was the first thing I learned on my very first day of business school. Corporations are amoral, without emotion, without conscience. But that doesn't mean that a corporation's management can't adopt practices that help its employees, help the environment, and help the wider community while still driving profit. There are some really great companies that, in my opinion, have adopted practices with benefits that reach further than their own bottom line. These companies have won my respect, and my hard-earned dollars.
Here's where I'll be concentrating my shopping this holiday season:

Starbucks - offers health insurance to half-time employees and pays fair prices to its coffee suppliers. I don't love where they choose to place some of their stores (such as Beijing's Forbidden City), but they do strive for sustainability and fair trade. Peppermint Hot Chocolate anyone? Yummy.

Powell's Books -amazing used book selection (they carry new books, as well), very progressive labor practices. And if you are ever in Portland, you have to check out the brick and mortar store in the Pearl District. It is a beacon of books. My favorite customer quote is, "The first time I went in there I had a mental orgasm." Seriously. I get so excited when I'm there I forget to breathe.

HP - Hewlett Packard is a model for sustainability in the electronics business. In July 2007, the company announced that it had met its target, set in 2004, to recycle 1 billion pounds of computer hardware. Annually, it recycles 70% more than its closest competitor and even houses its own recycling facilities. When I bought my last ink cartridge, I got a postage-paid envelope to send my old cartridge to be recycled. Excellent. In addition, HP is often ranked in the top 100 companies for Working Moms each year.

GAP- love their RED campaign.

Trader Joes - I will never understand how TJ's can sell such quality food at such low prices. I love their "green" incentive programs such as their monthly giveaway contests available to customers who shop with reusable bags.

Body Shop - Cosmetics with a conscience. The company supports a whole array of good causes, from community trade to the fight against domestic violence. None of their products are tested on animals. As someone who thinks putting makeup on her face is akin to rubbing it with mud (crazy sensory issues I can't really explain), I can say I love just about every product I have tried from Body Shop.

Burley Bikes - is a "business" in the loosest sense of the word. Based in Eugene, Oregon, it is actually structured as a co-op, which means that everyone, from the CEO to the janitor, makes the exact same salary. Every business decision is made by a democratic vote of all employees. Even though when I consulted for Burley as a business school student I recommended that they deconstruct their co-op or face catastrophic infighting, I still love this little company and its value system. Burley is also one of those companies that was green when green was definitely not cool and has watched the rest of the world catch up to its sustainable practices. And you can't beat their products, especially their bike trailers (we bought ours used on craigslist and it rides like a dream).

And although this isn't the focus of the post, you really can't go wrong with small online retailers.

I just realized that the majority of companies listed have roots in the Northwest, so you can see where my biases are hidden. I also can't guarantee that I haven't been fooled by corporate spin and that some of these companies aren't living up to their PR hype...I'll just have to hope they are being good corporate citizens.

I'd love to hear what companies you support and why...


  • Gap is one of the worst offenders in clothing retails for use of sweatshop labor in developing countries. As recently as October they were exposed for using child laborers at sweatshops in New Delhi (kids were found to be working 16 hour days with no pay - so you should reeeally enjoy those overpriced tshirts). Their red campaign is a just a big ol PR scheme to make people forget about their very long track record of using sweatshop labor.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 12/17/2007 10:46:00 PM  

  • I just discovered Ten Thousand Villages and ordered several Christmas presents from them online. They sell jewelry, textiles, home decor, etc., all handmade by local artists in third world countries. It's very cool stuff, and I love that it allows artists and craftsmen the chance to make a decent and consistent living for their families. It's like Pier1 with a conscience. (Which is not to say Pier1 has bad business practices. I actually have no idea.)
    posted by Blogger RCH at 12/17/2007 11:32:00 PM  

  • Anon, I went back and forth about including Gap on the list. The child labor accusations were from manufacturers they contracted, and they ended their relationship when the accusations came to light. This DOES NOT of course mean they didn't know what was going on before and turned a blind eye on the situation until it became public. It's a hard call and impossible, I think, to know when exactly retailers should be held responsible for the actions of their overseas contractors.

    As for their Red campaign...it very well could be all PR...but the good is still being accomplished and I don't see many other large clothing retailers working on such projects.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 12/18/2007 07:56:00 AM  

  • rch - thanks for bringing up Ten Thousand Villages. Portland has a store that I used to love to go in and I always admired their mission...Glad to see they are still alive and selling...
    posted by Blogger Jen at 12/18/2007 07:58:00 AM  

  • the problem with the gap is that they have been 'working with rogue manufacturers' for 20 years. Same thing has been happening over and over for so long, you have to wonder how long they can continue to plead ignorance for.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 12/18/2007 09:03:00 AM  

  • Holy heck, I discovered Powell's Books through Amazon, and am in LOVE with their selection of foreign language children's books. We're raising our kids tri-lingual, so a strong home library is invaluable.
    posted by Blogger Emily C at 12/18/2007 09:25:00 AM  

  • We live in a heavily Mennonite area, which is the organization associated with Ten Thousand Villages. We have a lot of respect for the traditions and values of the Mennonite people. They have many initiatives connected with social justice and helping the poor.

    Going into their version of the Deseret Industries (it's called Care and Share and is right next to Ten Thousand Villages here) is similar to going into DI, complete with soft church music playing in the background. I was in there once when the music selection included "Come, Come Ye Saints," all four verses.
    posted by Anonymous East Coast at 12/18/2007 01:28:00 PM  

  • A couple more comments.

    I tend to frequent thrift stores. If you're very particular about what you buy and can run in regularly, you can find many things good enough to allow you to devote family finances to other things besides clothing. I started shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc., during the graduate school years. That's done and past and we could buy everything new, but there's the thrill of the chase and the idea that you are supporting these organizations that use their resources to provide employment to people who are down and out.

    Second, Trader Joes is owned by one of the Albrecht brothers (I just looked and Theo and Karl Albrecht still show up on the Forbes 2007 list of the 20 wealthiest people in the world). They made their fortunes with the Aldi stores.

    I shop at Aldi because they sell high quality food with low prices and treat their employees right. For instance, they pay very competitive wages, provide full health insurance and have the employees sit down (imagine that!) to check out groceries.

    I always go to Aldi to get my imported European candy and pastries.

    I know this sounds like an ad, but it's not, since both Aldi and Trader Joes are privately owned by the Albrechts.

    Also, the customer service is great, if you don't mind waiting a few minutes. Recently we had a problem with some cheese (not normal since their products are usually good quality). My husband mentioned it the next time he was in and the cashier replaced it without even seeing the original product. Try doing that at Wal-mart.

    We don't have a Trader Joes close to us, unfortunately, so I can't say anything about their products or customer service, but looking in wikipedia, it claims that they provide good benefits and pay, even to part-time employees.
    posted by Anonymous East Coast at 12/18/2007 02:20:00 PM  

  • I love Powell's. Very cool! I had never heard of them. Also, Ten Thousand Villages is great. What a brilliant idea.
    Thanks for this post...it's great to know the good ones without having to do all the research meself.
    Oh, and those small online retailers are wonderful;)
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 12/19/2007 07:41:00 AM  

  • As someone who worked for Gap Inc for a few years (and not in retail), I honestly don't think there are people who work there who knowingly let the sweatshop labor happen. Gap has a comprehensive Global work policy. They spend a lot of money to open global offices and employ people to work with factories and check in on them (something that most clothing companies do not have the resources to do). But, because of the amount of clothing Gap produces and the range of new styles and new techniques that require new contracted factories)they obviously cannot employ enough people to be in every factory all the time.

    Of course, this is all my best guess with the past experience I have had working closely with production managers and being in a number of Gap's global offices and some contracted factories in developing countries. There very well could be some evil (or blind) people working there, but I do not believe it is a "company policy" and they have made extensive efforts to make sure these types of things do not happen.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 12/19/2007 08:21:00 AM  

  • As for stores that seems to deserve some holiday shopping dollars, Design Mom highlighted Oneity , a small children's clothing manufacturer and online retailer (it looks like they also have a store in UT).

    With every item of clothing purchased, the company gives back to the global community where that item of clothing was hand produced. It's nice to see such a small company adopt these kinds of global practices in their original business plan. I hope they have much success!

    And whether or not a companies "conscious" practices are genuine or a PR stunt, I enjoy the constant reminders I see all around me that we are all interconnected and there are always ways we can help each other out.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 12/19/2007 08:28:00 AM  

  • Amen to the previous poster about Aldi! I love that store, and now that I am used to shopping there, Walmart completely drives me crazy and makes me feel so overwhelmed.
    posted by Blogger Katie at 12/19/2007 11:58:00 AM  

  • This has turnined into an very interesting post! First of all, I am actually not surprised to hear that the owenrs or TJ's are the same as Aldi- just two great but different stores hitting different demographics! I usually shop Aldi, mainly just becuase it is closer to me, but Trader Joes is by far the most fun grocery store I have ever gone in. I can't ever leave there without buying a bunch of delightful things I wasn't planning on, like sparkling blueberry juice, and I love it!

    I have mixed feelings about the GAP too- after hearing about the sweatshop scandal it makes you wonder how much control they are maintaining in the production overseas. Hopefully there are more good people than bad in improtant positions working there, as TftCarrie said.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 12/19/2007 12:24:00 PM  

  • Funny, I was just talking to my BIL tonight about Burley Bikes. He works there and bought our family a Solo trailer this past summer, which we've loved. He enjoys working there because it's important for him to work for a company that sells a product he believes is doing good in people's lives. The bike trailers help people with young kids stay physically active and use an alternate mode of transportation. The bike trailers are expensive, but they (hopefully) appeal to environmentally-conscience people who don't mind spending a little extra money--if they can--for a good quality product made in the USA.
    posted by Anonymous brittany at 12/25/2007 10:52:00 PM  

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