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Ethical Black Friday is Possible: A Shopping Guide

Ethical Black Friday

Ethical Black Friday, is it possible? The holiday season is upon us, and that means buying presents for all the family and friends your politics haven’t alienated. Black Friday is traditionally the start of the economic madness, but there are ways to go about it as ethically as possible. So how can you have a conscientious Black Friday?

Consider whether it’s worth it

Ethical Black Friday is all about weighing the pros and cons. Black Friday sales are often not what they seem. While there are occasionally great deals to be had, especially if you’re buying electronics or appliances, these tend to be extremely limited in quantity. A lot of what’s “on-sale” is clearance stuff stores are trying to move before putting in new inventory. Taking advantage of Black Friday bargains requires careful study of the various sales each store is putting on, plus losing sleep to stand in line with other early birds. If you’re not going to do that, you might as well skip it. Personally, I take advantage of the crowds being elsewhere to go to the Texas Renaissance Festival on that day every year. Which has the advantage of letting you…

Shop Locally

Ethical Black Friday is about supporting local businesses. This is not as hard as it sounds, but it does require some legwork beyond braving the local Target. Pretty much everything you could want to buy is available locally if you’re willing to put in the effort. Got a gamer in your life? The Game Over[1] chain of stores is Texas-owned and magical to walk around in if you don’t mind used products. Here’s the list of Texas’ independently-owned bookstores.[2] Austin has some amazing independently-owned toy stores, including Terra Toys and Lions and Tigers.[3] Try to have a general idea of what you want to buy, then spend a few seconds on Google with the phrases “locally owned” or “independently owned.” You’d be amazed at what you might discover. Also, be sure to check out the directory of black-owned businesses[4]. You can support racial parity by putting cash in people’s pockets.

Buy Art

Nothing helps people in the gig economy like buying their art. That, and it makes a really fine gift that way too many people will never buy for themselves. Etsy, for example, will let you search by location in their custom forms, and you can always browse the local paper for art coverage. Shout out to some Texas pop culture artists: Kelly Musler[5] does amazing portraits of celebrities that are very good quality, and Dan Perez[6] makes exquisite monster sculptures for the twisted weirdos in your life (please send attention: Jef Rouner, c/o Reform Austin). Plus, a lot of artists actually do real Black Friday sales as they try to move merchandise, so it’s worth learning about your local scene.   

Environmentally Sustainable Practices

A ton of businesses, including some very big and popular ones, have made the environment a priority. Even if you’re not shopping locally, you can do some good by supporting companies that have gone green. Disney, for instance, is on track to have zero greenhouse gas emissions and a zero-waste policy. Patagonia is one of the best outdoor brands for environmental policy. As far as luxury bath products with an eco-conscience, it’s hard to beat LUSH. Reward forward-thinking companies when at all possible.

Companies That Pay a Living Wage

Right now there is nothing on the minds of the American worker like trying to get the minimum wage in line with the current cost of living. It’s become a big enough issue that some very big companies have committed to raise up their employees (usually without allowing them to unionize, but you have to celebrate the small steps even as you call for a change). Target is due to have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2020, making it your best bet for big-box shopping. Costco is actually going up to $15.50 this next year, so consider choosing them over Sam’s Club. Amazon does famously have a $15 minimum now, but you’ll have to weigh that against some of their other practices, which have received scorn.[7] All in all, you have to try to do your best to reward the companies trying to make the world a less messed up place. 

But the main thing you can do for an ethical Black Friday is…

Treat Employees with Decency

There’s an urban legend that it’s called Black Friday because it’s the day that many businesses finally started to see a profit for the year. That’s a myth. It’s called Black Friday because the volume of shoppers creates mayhem. Some people treat it as the perfect time to act like vicious jerks because it’s expected. That means yelling at employees and leaving huge messes.

This, more than any other day, you should be aware of how you treat workers. Say please and thank you. Wait patiently. Know what you want ahead of time. Be mindful of lines forming behind you and of how much extra work you might be putting on a fellow human. Put things you don’t want away, or at least hand them to an employee. Never think that you being lazy or demanding is protecting the person’s job. It’s not. Maybe offer to buy a tired-looking employee a sweet or coffee. Do not get caught up in the maelstrom. Act the way you would want someone to treat you if you had to wade hand and foot on a hundred people over a twelve-hour shift.

In short, try to shop as a good global citizen, not a crazed glutton. It’s a lot easier than it sounds.

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