Though the big winter holidays are behind us, we are now looking toward another year filled with birthdays and many other celebrations. Most of these are centered around the exchange of gifts, which presents us with the same dilemma we faced in December: We really don’t want to engorge ourselves in mindless purchasing of empty trinkets from big box companies. We also don’t want to be the strange relative who gives their seven-year-old niece or nephew a lecture on consumption instead of something they can unwrap. We reluctantly swallow our scruples and go to the mall or we stand strong with the understanding that our slice of birthday cake will be served with dirty looks.

There just doesn’t appear to be any in-between. Except that there is.

This year and each subsequent one, we can avoid supporting the big box corporations that exploit people, communities, and the planet as a whole while enriching an elite few without being self-righteous or abetting exploitation ourselves. Cooperatives and self-directed enterprises, democratically owned and controlled by their workers, are a great way to improve labor rights and inject money into a local economy. Best of all, the gift you give benefits more than just the recipient.

Purchasing from a Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprise (WSDE) is casting a ballot for a community. Free of the burden of compensating Board members and expensive CEOs, WSDEs pay their workers more, give them better benefits, and give more to charity than their traditional capitalist counterparts.

Because the workers live where they work, they provide twice as much money into the local economy through taxes and purchases. This also makes them far less likely to move their operation (and selves and families) to a different country to save a buck or two.

if you’re considering going WSDE but you’re not quite sure where to start, below is a partial list of progressive businesses that make up a  handful of what’s out there. (You can use these three resources to find more.)

Equal Exchange

Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-op that offers fair trade products from small farmer cooperatives across the world. Whether you’re looking for high-quality chocolate, tea, bananas, olive oil, hot cocoa, and a score of other products for a loved one, the taste of Equal Exchange’s gifts are only enhanced by their flavor for justice. Equal Exchange works with farmer cooperatives and food cooperatives (consumer-owned) to connect people who grow the food to the people who buy and enjoy it.

Co-op 108

Co-op 108 is a worker-owned co-op that prides itself on being a safe alternative to the chemical- and preservative-based skin care products otherwise flooding the shelves. They are dedicated to using local and organic ingredients whenever possible and are always 100% preservative free.

Co-op 108 is focused on helping create a more co-operative economy by interco-operating with other co-ops, by contributing a percentage of their surplus to a co-op development fund, and by creating a more humanized workplace for the owners.

Food For Thought Books

Looking to avoid Their deals may seem tempting, but  the online giant is doing everything it can to shut down small bookstores across the country and their labor practices have been absolutely horrid.

Over the years, Food For Thought books, a worker-collective in Amherst, MA, has certainly felt the pressure from Amazon’s onslaught. Yet, where many bookshops have had to shut down, Food For Thought has stayed open—in large part thanks to its collective structure in which the worker-owners share the burden amongst each other.

In addition to its neighborhood bookstore, you can purchase books on their website and have them delivered straight to your home.


The Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) is a worker-owned producer of resources for social and economic change, from the cooperative movement itself to community organizing, people’s history, and beyond..One of their most popular items is the well-reviewed Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives, which last year sold in more than 20 countries. Full disclosure, two of us work for this outfit, so we obviously think we’re pretty neat. But if the above organizations appeal to you, TESA is most-likely up your alley as well.

By Brian Van Slyke, Taliesin Nyala, and John Burkhart. Brian and Taliesin are worker-owners at The Toolbox for Education and Social Action. John is the Research Director at Democracy at Work, a social movement for a new economy.

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