A revealing NBC investigative report takes a behind-the-scenes look at Goodwill Industries, and what we see is not what most people would think when they hear the words “good will.” This multi-billion dollar non-profit corporation is paying disabled workers as little as 22 cents an hour, while reaping billions of dollars in in-kind donations, paying district CEOs as much as a half-million dollars each, and turning record profits of more than 5 billion dollars in 2012 - all while receiving government subsidies and avoiding taxes as a “non-profit entity.”
I live in a rural community and until about a year ago our community did not have a Goodwill. Area donations went to local charities, like the second-hand store run by our local shelter for domestic violence and sexual assault victims; our local churches which redistribute donations to those in need in our own communities, the food pantry and the baby pantry; all charities that benefit people within our communities. Once Goodwill came to town all of that changed. In fact, I had a long conversation with the manager of one local thrift store a few weeks ago and was told that since Goodwill began occupying the largest building in the center of this small town, donations and sales have bottomed out for local charities.
When people hear the name “Goodwill” they undoubtedly believe that these stores are in some way doing good in the world. When you donate to St. Vincent De Paul, for example, the profits are spent in local communities to provide assistance with food, utilities, medical expenses, etc… Not so with Goodwill Industries. They do not provide charity to local residents. They operate under the premise that they are providing “jobs” for disabled members of society.
What Goodwill has done is found a legal way to exploit the most vulnerable members of the population, paying them slave wages while excusing the practice with, “It’s up to them not the ‘elite’ members of society, to determine what’s right for them.” The fact is, many of these workers are mentally and emotionally disabled, lacking the skills they need to be able to determine for themselves what “right for them.” Unless exploiting children were to become legal, I can’t think of another segment of the population easier to manipulate. What’s going on here is clearly not good will. In many cases it is nothing more than taking advantage of people who don’t even understand that they’re being taken advantage of. The fact that a man with a very low IQ is willing to work for less than a dollar an hour does not mean his labor is not being exploited.
The fact that some people are getting very rich off this exploitation means something needs to change in our society. Maybe we need clearer guidelines on what it means to be an “acceptable charity organization,” eligible for tax exempt status. We surely need better laws to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. We certainly need to address full disclosure requirements, so that when we give to a “charitable organization” we get the full picture about where our money and goods are going and who or what they are going to be helping.
So many things in society appear to be about “branding.” If Goodwill were to change its name to reflect its true practices, they would have to call their stores “Exploitation Factories.” If they did that, however, you obviously wouldn’t give them your stuff to sell, nor would you go there to pay for the same stuff that someone else gave them for free. If you realized that the money you spent there was going to pay their CEO’s hundreds of thousands of dollars each, while their workers were being paid based on how fast they can hang clothes in the back of the store, you might think twice about supporting that kind of “charity.” But they’re not dumb enough to name their stores “Exploitation Factories”; they came up with a nice name instead: “Goodwill.” As with many things in society, the label on the outside of the package does not provide an accurate reflection of what’s inside.
You can wrap low quality goods in shiny gold packages and sell them as “high-end” and at least half the people will be none the wiser. You can also cover a company that exploits disabled workers and takes advantage of people’s generosity in order to do nothing but generate profits for its CEOs with the logo of ”Goodwill.” Saying it doesn’t make it so. The “Goodwill” label hardly seems to reflect the values, business model. or underlying profit motivation of the goods unsuspecting people are being sold by this multi-billion dollar corporation.
Here’s the video: