Convenient for Whom?

7-Eleven--feeding our dysfunction.

7-Eleven–feeding our dysfunction.

There was an old advertising campaign for the 7-Eleven stores that had the tagline, “thank heaven for Seven-Eleven.” It was prominent during the 1980s, I think.

7-Eleven is one of a plethora of convenience store chains dotting the American landscape. Coffee and convenience foods are an American birthright, and stores like 7-Eleven keep our addictions sated, and employ a segment of the American workforce that lack skills and other intangibles.

Of course, I’ve frequented my share of these stores over the years. A bit less now that I’ve reduced my intake of junk food and death cuisine. Still, it takes willpower to resist 99 cent coffee and a package of peanuts when you’re driving the ribbon of American roadways traveling from place to place. Convenience stores beckon you at almost every exit along your journey.

Stores like 7-Eleven are run by franchisees, who purchase the right to run one or more of their stores. In fact, 7-Eleven is the world’s largest operator, franchisor and licensor of convenience stores, with more than 50,000 outlets. This is actually more stores than the previous record-holder, McDonald’s.

Franchisees figure out their own methods and means to turn a profit and expand their own little fiefdom of stores. Apparently a group in New York figured out a way to enhance profits by turning to slave labor in what the New York Times called a “modern-day plantation system.” On Monday, prosecutors in New York charged these owners with wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft and alien harboring.

Among the ways that these owners profited was by recruiting more than 50 illegal immigrants, falsifying identities stolen from American citizens, which included children and dead people.

The employees then worked 100 hours a week but were paid for a fraction of that time. They were forced to live in substandard housing owned by the operators of the convenience stores, the authorities said.

The federal investigation, which began two years ago, led authorities to two families and their associates with roots in Pakistan and the Philippines. Apparently they recruited from their own ethnic communities.

When in America, I guess.

Of course, a news story like this gets our attention briefly, then we’re right back to buying our 99 cent coffee, purchasing our bags of processed corn products, or buying clothing made in other countries, where business practices like the ones perpetrated by these convenience store owners like these is the norm.

We have a lot to be proud of. As a number of writers have written, notably, Morris Berman, being the most recent, “we are a nation of hustlers.” People come to America and some quickly learn that hustle and how to work it to their benefit and gain. Of course, there are plenty “natives” that also know how to benefit and exploit their workers, to varying degrees. It’s just one of the qualities of American capitalism.

One thought on “Convenient for Whom?

  1. The other day, Reggie Black sent me a link of workers in countries without labor laws. In these countries, the employees were toiling at things like harvesting rare earth minerals and making the “stuff” we consume. They were being exposed to noxious fumes and wearing pieces of plastic over their mouths–no OSHA-approved breathing apparatus. Most of them will die.

    It’s difficult to figure out how to step off the merry-go-round of consumption. I want to produce more and consume less. I want to produce a good product for my neighbors at a fair price. I don’t want to put a “Buy Local” sticker on my bumper. There is an ascetic quality to consuming less and we have been so conditioned to comfort and consumption, it’s difficult to see where to begin. Even so, it’s a discussion that very few people are having out in the open because we are told that it is our duty to consume and get the economy moving.

    As you say, though, we have grown accustomed to our conveniences.

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