In preparation for Cyber Monday, the Day of Virtual Shopping that takes place on the first Monday after Thanksgiving, online retailers are pulling out all the stops. Free shipping deals! Exclusive online promotions! A set of Ginsu knives with every purchase! (OK, maybe no knives, but you get the idea).
Clearly, this year’s Cyber Monday — a term coined in 2005 by Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation — is shaping up to be a big one. According to comScore, which measures digital commerce, consumers spent some $1.25 billion in 2011, up 22 percent from 2010. And this year should show similar growth.
Not everyone is happy with the online consumption. Some organizations and companies have asked shoppers to take a deep breath before pulling out their credit cards — or, more pointedly, to boycott Cyber Monday altogether.
On Nov. 8, Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, a labor rights advocacy and campaign organization, launched an anti-Cyber Monday campaign. Its goal is to get consumers to sign a pledge not to shop on Cyber Monday because of “dangerous, sweatshop-like working conditions facing U.S. warehouse workers who fulfill online orders for retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, said in a statement to ABC News. On its website, the group cites workplace injustices including the “backbreaking pace of work,” “extreme temperature,” and “expendable employment,” among other issues.
The group says it was inspired by recent strikes by Wal-Mart employees and warehouse workers. In mid-September, workers in Southern California went on a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs. Around the same time, hundreds of people marched in Dallas and San Diego, demanding better work conditions.
On Wednesday, workers at a Wal-Mart-contracted warehouse in Mira Loma, California went on strike to demand better conditions at their facility, according to Warehouse Workers United, a union-backed group that represents workers. The workers are employed by NFI, a logistics company, and Warestaff, a temporary labor agency–not Wal-Mart. But all of the merchandise that flows through the facility is headed for Wal-Mart stores.
Chris Allen, 39, a striking worker, told ABC News, “The conditions inside the warehouse are really unsafe. We don’t have good equipment to perform our job. We need new dock ramps, new carts, new scan guns. People are still getting hurt out there.”
Kathleen Hessert, a spokeswoman for NFI, said that the allegations against its warehouses are “totally false,” and that the company “unequivocally maintains a safe workplace where people are treated with respect and dignity and it holds the staffing agencies to those same standards.”
Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, said that the boycott “is just another exaggerated publicity campaign aimed at generating headlines to mislead our customers and associates.”
But Wal-Mart is not the only target.
Two years ago, PETA staged a Cyber Monday protest against DKNY’s ”pelt-pimping” Facebook page. This year’s target is the fashion store Bebe, said PETA spokesperson Danielle Katz. She said PETA is encouraging consumers to complain to Bebe’s customer service line and tweet anti-Bebe messages.
Last year, Patagonia, the sportswear company, asked customers not to purchase the 60 percent recycled polyester R Jacket, one of its best-selling items, because making it “required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people.” On its website, the company noted that transporting the jacket to its Reno warehouse generated nearly “20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product, and that the jacket left behind two-thirds its weight in waste.
“Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time — and leave a world inhabitable for our kids — we want to do the opposite of every other business today,” it wrote. “We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”
(Of course, this begs the question: If Patagonia is so worried about the environment, why offer the jacket in the first place?)
This year, the website’s homepage will feature the message “Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need,” Patagonia spokesperson Jen Rapp told ABC News.
Representatives for DKNY and Bebe did not respond to calls from ABC News.
Kathleen Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation, told ABC News that “retailers monitor working conditions both in stores and in their warehouses very closely, abide by the law and take employee relations very seriously. Not just during the holidays, but every day.”
But Gupta said she was unimpressed. ”Our goal is to get this message to the retailers: that consumers care more about the workers in these warehouses than just getting a good deal.”