November 19, 2012, 5:04 PM

Cyber Monday sparks protests from labor-rights groups

And opening retail stores on Thanksgiving attracts another web backlash.

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Two labor-rights advocacy groups want consumers to avoid shopping on Cyber Monday—the first workday after Thanksgiving, and a day that marketers encourage online purchases—because of what they call the “sweatshop conditions” of e-retailers.

The groups, Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, say as part of their online pledge drive that fulfilling online orders requires warehouse employees “to work at unreasonable and backbreaking speeds, and they endure the pain because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.” The online drive also protests what the groups call low wages and the lack of job security for temporary holiday workers, among other related issues.

The online pledge posted by American Rights at Work specifically urges consumers to avoid spending money with two of the world’s largest online retailers, Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and Walmart.com, No. 4. Neither company provided an immediate response. “This system won't change until consumers stand up together and let online retailers know that we care more about how they treat their workers than the cheap discounts they're offering,” American Rights at Work says in the pledge.

The online pledge drive faces off against the growing tidal force of Cyber Monday. Online shoppers in 2011 spent $1.25 billion on the first work day after Thanksgiving, up 22% from 2010—and a 105% increase since 2006, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. Overall web sales this holiday season will increase up to 18% year over year in 2012, comScore says, potentially beating last year’s growth rate of 15%.

Meanwhile, some Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees, reportedly displeased about the retail chain opening stores on Thanksgiving night, say they plan to strike in protest. Competitor Target Corp., which is No. 23 in the Top 500 Guide, also has attracted protest over its plans to open stores on Thanksgiving night. An online petition today at Change.org—a digital collection point for petitions—that calls for the retailer to “give Thanksgiving back to families” had gained nearly 360,000 signatures as of this afternoon. The petition was posted by a woman in California who described herself as six-year employee of the retail chain. Target offered no immediate comment.

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