National Consumers League

Consumers willing to sacrifice for worker welfare


By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft Consumers care. That simple idea can terrify businesses and start the waves of change for workers across the nation and around the world.  It can topple oppressive industries and pull back the curtain to show the ugly side of life in factories, restaurants, and stores. With the National Consumers League’s newly commissioned survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, consumers have once again shown that they feel strongly (87 percent) about the products in their lives and they do not want products to be manufactured in unfair, overly harsh, or dangerous working conditions – and they are willing to make some sacrifices for it. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of responders agreed that they would be “willing to wait longer to get the latest electronic gadgets if [they] knew it was produced under humane working conditions.” Thus taking a torch to the electronic industry’s excuse of using overseas factories to appease an ‘imagined’ consumer not willing to wait a few extra months for the latest devices and therefore, have their products produced in factories who employ overly harsh overtime policies and dangerous working conditions. As evidenced in the recent Fair Labor Association’s report on Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer for Apple, Sony, Nintendo and other technology giants, and the recent headlines concerning Apple, corporations are being forced to take a fresh look at they way they conduct business and who they work with. Besides the technology giants, the restaurant and retail industries should be on notice to treat their workers fairly and not to try to cheat them out of their wages.  An overwhelming majority of respondents (91 percent) said it was important or very important to them “that the stores [they] shop in and the restaurants [they] eat in pay their workers fairly for the wages they are owed.” While 93 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “employers who cheat their employees out of the wage they have earned should be fined or punished in some way.” With the Department of Labor’s recent crack down on the retail, hospitality, restaurant, and construction industries, wage theft (any time an employer illegally underpays or does not pay their employee) has been an increasingly hot topic amongst workers, local and state governments and workers’ rights groups.  With a loss in state and local tax revenue, state and local governments have seen how wage theft affects their bottom line and are looking for ways to help workers combat wage theft. The National Consumers League’s Special Project on Wage Theft has been devoted to furthering the battle against wage theft, striving to educate workers, consumers, businesses, and governments on the effects of wage theft and is building an increased awareness about the nature of wage theft in the United States.