When you gotta shop big: 4 corporations for ethical consumers

Guest post by Anie
Costco website + bokeh

“Shop local” and “Shop handmade” are great slogans for the holiday season that we should all try to live by. But sometimes, you just need something a little more mass-produced — whether it’s having to buy a huge batch of gifts for clients, or just wanting to fit some convenient shopping into your busy schedule.

So where is the ethical consumer supposed to shop when they don’t have the time (or funds) to hire a local artisan? Offbeat sponsors are a great starting point, but here are some additional companies worth checking out…


The biggest compliment I can give this company was actually lodged as a complaint by a Wall Street broker. Costco cares more about its members and its employees than about its shareholders. “Could Costco make more money if the average wage was two or three dollars lower?” asks Galanti [the CFO]. “The answer is yes. But we’re not going to do it.” Costco is committed to providing an adequate wage and healthcare to all of its employees and doesn’t believe either should be sacrificed for the sake of being MORE profitable. Did you know that when the recession hit, their CEO’s response was to mandate all employees get a RAISE? He claimed that when times are tough you should be trying to figure out how to give your employees more, not less. Seriously, these guys make me cry.

Read more about how amazing this company’s views are in Business Week: Costco CEO Craig Jelinek leads the cheapest, happiest company in the world. And if you don’t have a Costco near you, fear not! They have a website.


As evil corporations go, Starbucks is one of the best. Did you know their employees qualify for full health care at only 20 hours a week? That they pay for them to go to college? What about their partnerships with local coffee growers to ensure sustainable and ethical growing and harvesting? You can read all about it on their website (though be prepared to wade through the rhetoric; it is a biased source after all). If all that isn’t enough to sway you to the dark side, at least love them for the snark. In response to a shareholder’s claim that supporting gay marriage may have hurt Starbuck’s profit margin, the CEO replied “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” He further claimed that it wasn’t an economic decision for him; that making a clear statement of supporting the diversity of his 200,000 employees was more important than one quarter’s profit margin. And all of this skips over the local impact of individual Starbucks stores. The Starbucks I worked at donated all of its used coffee grounds for compost and all of its uneaten pastries to shelters. It also showcased the work of tons of local artists for no gallery fee.

American Giant

If the outsourcing of American manufacturing is one of your hot button issues, you need to check out American Giant. Personally, when I need a new jacket I head to Goodwill, or hope someone will forget something cool at my house. But if you’re one of those people who can afford to hit up a mall or a department store for your outerwear needs, consider this company instead. We are talking higher quality, American-made textiles. This article can tell you more about it: American Giant hoodie: This is the greatest sweatshirt known to man.

Warning: After this article went viral, American Giant ended up with a huge backlog. I think they’ve recovered at this point, but it’s worth double checking if you want to use these as Christmas gifts.


Maybe you don’t think of grocery stores when you think of holiday shopping, but you should. In addition to providing for those big meals, most grocery stores sell greeting cards, gift cards, seasonal decor, flowers, and plenty of gift appropriate housewares, Publix is the largest employee owned business in America. You read that right: after a year of employment (with a 1000 hours of work) every employee starts earning stock options.

They aren’t in many states, but if you’ve got them, use them. If nothing else, it’s really nice to have someone help you load your groceries into your car on a rainy day when you forgot your coat and hat. To read more about Publix’s business model, check out this article: The Walmart Slayer: How Publix’s “people first” culture is winning the grocery war. Or for a more basic impression of Publix as an employer, just check out their reviews.

What are your go-to companies for when you have to shop big?

Comments on When you gotta shop big: 4 corporations for ethical consumers

  1. While I love what Starbucks does as a company, their coffee sucks. They over-roast and burn their coffee so it is incredibly bitter. But I will freely admit I am one heck of a coffee snob. But I love that they try to do right by their employees.

    Overall I prefer shopping at stores where the employees seem happy with their job. Like Sprouts grocery stores!

    • I am lucky to taste other starbucks coffee since my local store has their clover machine, which brews many different types of coffee, and it brews only one cup. I am a semi-coffee snob, but I agree starbucks is a great company, so I get a little annoyed when coffee snobs try and take it down a notch by saying it is “the man.” If you don’t like their coffee, I get it, but don’t make it seem like they are Walmart.

    • One little thing to add while most care for employees is great not so much for breast feeding employees. If you work in one of the shops there is usually no where to pump or you have to always hunt down who has the key. I’ve heard a lot of people have trouble although in the corporate they are great for breast feeding mamas.

    • I definitely agree 100% with happy employees. Every single time I’ve ever seen any employee at Costco, they’ve been genuinely happy. Not just plastered-smile happy, but joking with customers and other employees, laughing, bouncing on their feet as they walk. Even in the week before Christmas.

      Companies, treat your employees well, and we (your customers) will notice.

  2. Seeing Publix on the list made this Florida girl happy! They’ll spoil you for any other grocery store. While I could probably get some things cheaper at Walmart, the nicer stores and better customer service totally make it worth the few extra cents.

    • For me, Publix is just too expensive. At least the one near me is. I can get things cheaper at my local small grocery and health food stores. That isn’t usually my concern (I shop at Kroger), but if I were trying to be ethical and save money, Publix wouldn’t be the first choice in my neighborhood.

  3. Interestingly, over here, Starbucks seems not to do right… In Germany, for example, they have been in conflict with the workforce to the point of getting into strike-mode, and they are notorious for tax evasion tactics and not paying into the economies that they profit from all over in Europe… I am constantly amazed at how one company can be on both sides of the spectrum like that.

    • Well, it depends on your issues. Because also in Europe ALL of their espresso is Fair Trade (unlike here where they’re still working on it). But yeah, it’s definitely worth looking into how local laws (and VPs) affect a corporation’s behavior in your country.

  4. I also want to put a plug in for the distantly-related Trader Joe’s and Aldi grocery chains! They actually pay their employees a living wage and treat them wonderfully. Plus, I’ve never had a bad exchange with any of their employees.

    • We do most of our grocery shopping at Aldi’s and could love them more. Our grocery bill was practically cut in half when we started shopping there. Wish we had a local Trader Joe’s too!

  5. If you live in the Midwest, specifically Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and parts of Illinois, South Dakota, and Minnesota, I’ve got to plug Hy-Vee: they’re employee owned too, and always seem to be really committed to doing good in the community.

  6. Don’t forget REI for your outdoor loving friends and family, or even for homebodies who love things like cozy sweaters and down booties! Its a member-owned co-op- the largest in the country now. In addition to being a great company- employees also partially own the company, and receive benefits; healthcare, vacation, and sick leave starting at 20 hrs/week. Members get a 10% dividend back on purchases and all shoppers, member or not, have 1 year 100% satisfaction guarantee for their purchases (even if its been used and you’re unsatisfied with its performance).

    • Yes! REI is great to their employees (I used to work there). They also drive a lot of efforts around sustainable/ethical sourcing, production, shipping, packaging, etc. Don’t forget that they also donate millions of dollars (along with volunteer hours) to local environmental nonprofits in the communities where their stores are, and employees get a say in choosing those organizations.

  7. I’ve worked at Costco for several years now, after toiling away at other big box stores who did NOT treat their employees well and I can’t say enough good things about them as a company. They expect a lot from their employees to be sure – so don’t plan to text away while you’re there, and don’t think you can show up late every day. Those things sound basic but a lot of the younger hires just don’t get that. Anyway, the starting pay is terrific, but they really reward those who stay. If you are a full-time cashier, after 5yrs you will be receiving $22+/hr, full benefits incl. 3 weeks vacation, AND two hefty (multi-thousand) dollar bonus checks a year. That’s as a cashier – if you work in tires, meat dept, drive a forklift, etc – you make even more. Anyone in a supervisor/manager role gets even better pay, though those folks end up pretty much living at the store.

    Who can say that about any other retail-level company? Five years at Macy’s full-time had me only making $1.50/hr more than where I started, and that came with heaps of verbal abuse from the managers, and from the customers (but condoned by the managers as well).

  8. I can attest to Starbucks being a fairly awesome company. I worked for them for about 4 years. Now, I live in Canada, so I only have experience with the Canadian Starbucks. But I got full health benefits (like 100% stuff paid for except dental which was 85% or something, but still pretty high, full vision, disability, etc), they had a tuition plan, and their starting wage was $2-4 higher than anywhere else. They were awesome to work for, and I always recommend them.

    And to all the people who dislike their coffee…I’m not a big fan either (Coffee Snob as well), but between all the BIG CHAINS of coffee businesses out there…I will make a beeline for Starbucks any day of the week out of everyone else when I don’t have the luxury of a cutesy hipster coffee shop or traditional French/Italian shop available.

    • Totally. We frequent our amazing little local shops in Chicago and I wholeheartedly prefer/recommend them, but when we are out running a zillion errands, travelling, or frankly if we just fucking feel like it I have no shame about stepping into Starbucks. I know they are a decent company, I can get something I like enough, and they at least have some soymilk/water/snacks that will please my 4 year old. Plus sometimes you just need a Valencia Orange Refresher bigger than your head.

    • Some complain that S’bux edged out local cafes, but in my area, the locals were priced out by real estate values a decade before S’bux’s big expansion. So we were happy to see coffee come back to the corners of suburbia! For personalization, it’s great too bec. the baristas do stay at their jobs a long time, & they get to know their customers. It’s pretty nice to go in & have s’one ask “want your usual?”

  9. Home Depot. They emphasize to their employees, every chance they can get, that they want to be the number one in customer service. I don’t think there is anything they wouldn’t do for customers, including match prices and help people get a deal on just about anything if you talk to someone about it. Open bag in the garden center, discounted. All out of that one thing you wanted in the black Friday sales paper, deal can be made for another, similar item.
    Add to that the way they treat their employees if they’re sick or need help and then some with their community efforts. They’re worth shopping at, over another hardware store and even have children workshops to entertain kids on Sat’s and give them a cool toy they worked on themselves (Maybe with a little help from mom or dad.)

  10. If you’re in the Sacramento/Davis/Woodland/Vacaville area let me tell you about Nugget. Nugget is the best grocery store ever. They’ve been one of Fortune 500’s top companies to work for for several years in a row, they treat and pay the employees well, they have really nice (often organic) makeup and bath/shower stuff, they often have other fair-trade or handmade & local(ish) gifty products like hats and stuff. Everyone I know who has worked there liked it.

    And their produce is super high quality most of the time, which is nice because I’m a produce snob. Oh and the cheeeeese. They have cheese people on staff whose whole job is to choose the best cheeses and then tell you about them and give you samples.

  11. Does anyone know of a good centralized website for looking up the business ethics of a company? Of course I could wade through the actual company documents or court cases, but if there was a nice website that has already done that for me (the way you can check on nonprofits, for example), that would be awesome.

  12. Made in the USA companies I would vouch for:

    Stormy Kromer for quality wool apparel like hats and jackets.

    Pendleton for quality pants, shirts, and blankets. (But some people take issue with Pendleton’s history of trading Native American wares).

    Some items made by Carhartt and Duluth Trading, but check to be sure, as some are outsourced.

  13. I am gloaty that two Puget Sound businesses are on the list. GO COSTCO! GO STARBUCKS! Now, Amazon… when you going to step up and join the club and be a little less gross?

    • I think Amazon is working on it. I recently had to make an exchange of an item that was incorrectly delivered. I immediately was able to chat with a customer service rep, and they did what they could to make it right, including price-matching when I had to pick a different seller of the product. I was pretty satisfied as the consumer.
      They also do their best to ship local. Not only do products get to you faster, it’s a shorter commute for that thing you ordered.

      • But Amazon is well known to be disastrous to employees in the packaging/shipping warehouses. Just terrible. Unfortunately, getting our stuff shipped to home ASAP comes at a cost to the workers.

  14. I’d you didn’t see the out pouring of support for Market Basket this summer then you don’t live in new england. Look up what the employees did when their ceo was ousted by the board this summer and if that isn’t a sign of support I don’t know what is.

    • Yes! As a (fellow?) New Englander, I whole heartedly agree! Much like Starbucks, people work at Market Basket for decades and decades, able to have the company adapt to their changing needs/families.

  15. I’d have to vote a strike against Starbucks. In practice, their policies are much different than they sound. While it did only take (an average of) 20 hours a week to qualify for health insurance, store managers tried to keep people from qualifying. It was actually a certain total (240 I think?) hours per quarter, and employees near that limit could expect to have hours cut near the end of the quarter. They swore this wasn’t the case but I saw it over and over in the 4 years I spent there. An isolated case of bad management or company culture, I’m not sure, but I can’t give Starbucks the credit they want on this point.

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