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Social Justice and the Price Club: Great Things You Didn’t Know About Costco

Updated on October 8, 2014

Costco: A Price Club with a Conscience

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Fair Wages, Happy Workers

Industrial-organizational psychologists have been telling us for decades that happy workers who feel secure in their positions do better work. A quick glance at the job market in corporate America makes it clear that few employers have paid attention. Costco, however, is a price club of a different color. Recent surveys indicate that employees at the nationwide chain are happier on average than workers at many other companies, including some of the top players in Silicon Valley. According to CEO Craig Jelinek, in 2013, Costco paid a “starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business.” Additionally, at a time when retailers like Walmart, Target and Trader Joe’s are decreasing employee benefits, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that 88 percent of Costco employees have company-sponsored healthcare coverage.

These are some great reasons to shop at Costco. As a customer myself, I enjoy the cheery staff and great service I get at my local store. People I know who shop at both Costco and their primary competitor, Sam’s Club, have frequently mentioned that Costco consistently provides better service with comparable pricing. While fair treatment of employees is an important aspect of any company, Costco goes even farther in the line of social justice to help concerned citizens of our planet do good when shopping.

Locally Grown Produce

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Local Goods and Produce

During a recent trip to Costco, I was surprised to learn that Costco carries locally grown and produced merchandise. As I turned my cart down an aisle in the grocery section, a cheerful man offered me a sample of chunky applesauce. It was delicious! As I savored the morsels of fruit, he mentioned that the applesauce was from a local orchard. I had no idea that Costco purchased local foodstuffs, but I soon became aware that this is one of the many socially responsible activities in which the company participates. No, customers can’t always get the exact same products every time we visit Costco, but we can get local items in season.

Million Bowls Fights Hunger with Costco

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Feeding America at Costco

On another recent shopping trip, I was browsing the aisles to find some gluten-free cereal for my family. There on the shelves sat a display of Abundance Cherry Almond Crunch from MOM Brands. Unfortunately, I couldn’t purchase the cereal because it includes wheat, but I was happy to notice the advertisement for the company’s Million Bowls® program. This program provides cereal to Americans in need through affiliate food banks in several states. Naturally, Costco’s competitors sell MOM Brands, and consumers can purchase products that support the Million Bowls® program elsewhere, but it struck me that products like this solidly support the culture of social justice at Costco.

Further perusal of shelves in the grocery section of Costco indicates that they regularly stock products that promote global conservation efforts and social justice. When purchasing coffee in bulk, customers can choose from several fair-trade options. Although Costco does care a variety of chocolate products, careful consumers can get fair-trade cocoa products as well.

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World Crafts and Social Justice

On the same shopping trip during which I discovered the MOM Brands cereal, I happened upon DeeDee and Krenda. They were diligently working to set up a display of jewelry and baskets, all of which were handcrafted by women from Africa. This surprised me even more than the local produce I discovered in the grocery section, and it excited me. Over a year prior to this shopping trip, I had written a series of articles for a client on the topic “shopping for good.” The beads and jewelry in the display at my local Costco were made by some of the Ugandan women about whom I had written.

Fair-Trade African Crafts at Costco

DeeDee and Krenda model jewelry from Uganda.
DeeDee and Krenda model jewelry from Uganda. | Source

For decades, Ugandan women have been crafting gorgeous colored beads from recycled paper. A few non-profit organizations have begun programs through which these women can earn a livable wage from their handicraft. These programs also provide education and entrepreneurial training to Ugandan women. The paper beads, which the women use to make fashionable necklaces, bracelets and earrings, are marketed all over the world, and each piece of jewelry comes with information about the artist who created it.

The jewelry and baskets DeeDee shows here are made from recycled materials.
The jewelry and baskets DeeDee shows here are made from recycled materials. | Source

The Rwandan baskets that Krenda and DeeDee had for sale come from Rwanda Partners. This program works to support the healing and reconciliation of people in the war-torn country of Rwanda. The following video shares more information about this program.

Limitations and Shopper Awareness

While it is possible to buy local products and items that support social justice and global awareness at Costco, the company also carries products made in China and produced by companies that are not as socially responsible as those mentioned above. For some shoppers, this might be a deal breaker. For me, it simply means that I need to remain aware of the purchases I make, even at a great store like Costco.

For those reading this who have believed that socially responsible shopping has to cost more, I hope you are encouraged by learning about all the options available at Costco. You can buy food to feed your family and support the local economy by shopping at Costco, and you can get gifts for loved ones that will benefit people around the world. If you want to do good while shopping, perhaps it is time to visit your local Costco.

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    • Marie Gail profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Gail Stratford 

      3 years ago from Olathe, KS

      Interesting thoughts. I haven't found better prices at places that give fair wages to their employees. I also haven't had any problems with identity theft related to my Costco membership--although I have had identity theft in the past year related to my gym membership. I guess there's no way to really be safe in this world, so I prefer to give my money to an organization that gives back to the community rather than those that do not. Where do you shop that gives back to the community and costs less than Costco?

    • profile image

      bradmaster from orange county ca 

      3 years ago

      Marie Gail

      My problem with Costco and all the membership retailers is that they hold too much information about their members. Shopping should not be jeopardizing your privacy for a discount.

      Forget about any of the claims that they won't misuse your privacy, because today big companies like Target have had their customer information compromised.

      Taking a copy of a person's drivers license is ridiculous. How do we know what happens to the information, and how many people can access it.

      As far as prices are concerned, you can do better than Costco in many items. Just because they have many items that may be at good prices, these prices also exist at other stores.

      I don't have a Costco card anymore because of the driver's license requirement. They didn't convince me that they needed it.

      People actually spend more money than they need to at Costco. And Costco knows this and takes advantage of it. I had been a member of Price Club before Costco came into play. And I had been with Costco until we closed our membership to get an an intro deal, and that is when they hit me up for the driver's license.

      Identity theft happens to the most honest people, and it happens because places like Costco require too much private information.

      Remember that days when the retailers would write all your information on your check. Remember when banks would ask you for your SS # at the window, and your phone numbers.

      The criminals can do more with your personal information than you can do for yourself.

      Now that we are in the age of everything is on the computers, and the Internet, the bad guys know where to look.

      Keep your Costco membership make it easy for them.

    • Marie Gail profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Gail Stratford 

      3 years ago from Olathe, KS

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I've been a member for three years now but have only been actively shopping there over the past year. The more I learn about the company, the more I want to support them. I also think it's important to support and encourage social responsibility more by patronizing places that do it well than by actively criticizing those that don't. If I simply take my money elsewhere, the "bad guys" will eventually get the point.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Costco is indeed an outstanding corporate citizen. Their human resources practices are outstanding. They receive A's in all forms of community service. Excellent Hub, Marie.

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