The Dark Reality Behind America’s Greatest Thrift Store Empire

How a Saturday night internet wormhole effectively ruined my favorite store.

Alice C. Minium

--

Image: Henry J. Cordes

“We are trapped. Everybody who works at Goodwill is trapped.” -Harold Leigland, $5.46 an hour

Goodwill has long been my favorite store. As someone who detests the practices of most businesses that exploit cheap labor in foreign countries, not to mention the cost of buying goods retail, I love shopping at Goodwill. At the same time, I always wondered- is something a little sketchy here?

Everybody loves Goodwill. I’m not denying that. Your favorite collectible art piece or pair of pants you could never afford at retail price are fond, happy discoveries borne within that treasure trove palace behind those beautiful blue doors. The glories of thrift store shopping aside, is Goodwill really a charity? How, exactly, would that work?

Legally? Yes, it is a tax-exempt nonprofit that does perform work for the public good.

But morally? It’s got some pretty dark secrets.

I am not denying that Goodwill does some really wonderful stuff. But what if we didn’t know the whole story?

In the United States and Canada, the thrift store giant runs over 164 regional Goodwill organizations and 3,200 individual stores. Goodwill brands itself as a nonprofit that provides jobs to disabled workers. But that’s not quite the whole story. Suspicious business practices and lack of corporate oversight will make you question if Goodwill is actually such a good guy after all.

Here are my 10 most outstanding contentions.

1. Less than one-eighth of the company’s profit goes toward its charity work.

Goodwill sells free goods at a profit, but less than one eighth of that profit actually goes to the job-related programs they market as their primary pillar of charity work.

--

--

Alice C. Minium

Richmond-based writer, investigative researcher, and police abolitionist. Contact me at alice@openoversightva.org.