Shop online or buy when you travel?

The online world of shopping is now so vast you can buy almost anything while plonked in front of your computer. No need to travel to distant places, just click and it’s yours. But to shop online, you are robbed of a pleasant travel memory, of the pleasure of talking with local shopkeepers, investing directly in the local economy and getting to know a culture vastly different from your own.

Shopping on the spot is often a pleasant travel memory

And there’s a dark underbelly to online shopping.

American journalist Spencer Soper who writes for The Morning Call in Pennsylvania,  investigated work conditions in a local huge Amazon warehouse where goods are packed and shipped for big online retailers. Amazon is now the biggest online retailer in the world.

One worker aged in his 50s told the reporter he speed-walked around 20 to 25km daily and was expected to pick 1200 items. That’s one every 30 seconds. Another worker told Soper he eventually quit.

“The 34-year-old Allentown resident, who has worked in warehouses for more than 10 years, said he quit in July because he was frustrated with the heat and demands that he work mandatory overtime. Working conditions at the warehouse got worse earlier this year, especially during summer heat waves when heat in the warehouse soared above 100 degrees  (37 deg C),” Soper writes.

“He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers. Amazon workers interviewed for this story said they typically had one 15-minute break before lunch and another 15-minute break after lunch each 10-hour shift.”

As a result of this story, Amazon installed air-conditioners.

Another US  journalist, Mac McLelland, got a job at  Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc., an online shopping warehouse, and wrote that she was a wage slave. More than 15 per cent of pickers, packers, movers, and unloaders are temps. They make $US3 less an hour on average than permanent workers. And they can be “temporary” for years.

“Amalgamated has estimated that we pickers speed-walk an average of 12 miles (19km) a day on cold concrete, and the twinge in my legs blurs into the heavy soreness in my feet that complements the pinch in my hips when I crouch to the floor—the pickers’ shelving runs from the floor to seven feet high or so—to retrieve an iPad protective case,” MacLelland writes for the online magazine Mother Jones.

In nine hours, she picked and bagged 800 items – just 52 per cent of her ”goal” for a 10-hour shift. The most popular item she packed was dildos.

There’s no guarantee that the souvenirs you buy on your travels are manufactured in humane conditions either, but at least you know  if you buy locally, it’s one less sweatshop. But dildos? Stick to online shopping for those…

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