Without asking, the print-on-demand corporation CafePress has opened a shop on Irregular Times’ account and started selling items with our pictures on them. First, let me show you what’s happened, with screen captures for purposes of documentation. Then, let me explain why I’m upset about it.
CafePress administration opens a mystery shop on Irregular Times’ Account
A few weeks ago, I noticed the addition of a mystery shop on our account at CafePress, a print-on-demand service that produces many of the liberal made in the USA bumper stickers and t-shirts we sell. It had the odd name of Admin_CP584478:
We didn’t ask for this shop to be added to our account. We weren’t asked by CafePress, and we didn’t give permission either. This was odd, but the oddest thing was that there wasn’t anything for sale in the shop. I chalked it up to some kind of bug, figured no harm was done since nothing was going up for sale, and just let the thing sit.
Then I took a second look this morning and was shocked to find that the shop contained all sorts of items for sale on it that had been put there by CafePress without the corporation asking us for permission or even letting us know it had done so in the first place:
This particular page sells a load of “Funtainer” Thermoses adorned with our graphics, again without our permission.
When I looked further into the matter, I noticed that the strange shop Admin_CP584478 had been opted into the separate Marketplace area in which CafePress makes a higher margin of profit on each sale — again without our knowledge or consent. When sold on the Marketplace — without our consent — it is labeled as being designed not by us but by the mysterious robot entity “Admin_CP584478,” with all links that should be headed back to our actual shops instead directed back to this hideous fictional monstrosity. And finally, the strange shop Admin_CP584478 was opted out of privacy settings so that it could be indexed by search engines and splashed all over the Internet — again without our knowledge or consent.
CafePress Confirms That It’s Been Doing This On Purpose
Distressed by my discovery, I called the CafePress help line today, hoping to be reassured that the shop was some form of glitch or bug to be quickly fixed. When I got through, I was not reassured. Instead, I was informed the following (these are direct quotes from the CafePress help agent, written down as I spoke with him):
“What that is, is that this is a shop provided to you to provide new items to sell…”
“This is actually being done with other shopkeepers…”
“You can opt out by deleting the shop. You can delete it, but it may appear again…”
“The search engines, they can access the shop to be honest with you.”
Jim: “Will the item appear in the marketplace once it appears as a shop?” A: “To be honest with you, yes, that is correct.”
Why Am I Upset?
I am upset about this for two reasons. I am upset because the CafePress corporation is messing with Irregular Times’ account, opening shops without our consent and not even informing us, in a manner inconsistent with its own policies. I’m upset because this is happening to other people who sell through CafePress and who yet are probably not being made aware of what’s going on. The suggestion that a CafePress user can always “opt out” is ludicrous: how can a person “opt out” of a change imposed upon them by a corporation that does not even inform them that the change has been imposed?
But really, the above matter is only irksome compared to the larger outrage motivating me. We at Irregular Times have chosen to operate through CafePress, and not some other sellers, because CafePress offers us the ability to choose which items we’ll sell and which items we won’t. T-Shirt Monster, for instance, sells the really great Me to We shirt made from start to finish in Canada, but we won’t sell through T-Shirt Monster because if we did we’d be forced to sell their Gildan brand shirts (a brand with an obscured and checkered history). If CafePress takes choice away from its shopkeepers and starts slipping new products into our shops, then CafePress severely undercuts its ethical advantage for us.
This is especially so when it turns out, as is the case here, that CafePress put our items for sale on a product Made In China. Yes, the Funtainer Thermos is made in China. Country of origin is not ethically trivial. The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a report finding that forced labor and child labor are often used in Chinese factories. I have no idea whether Thermos factories in China are socially responsible regarding forced labor, child labor, pollution, wages, benefits, harassment or worker liberties. In the context of China’s track record on these matters, that’s a problem. To the best of my knowledge, Thermos LLC has not released any documentation to establish the working conditions in its factories, or any documentation of steps it has taken to assure that those working conditions are humane.
Is the possibility of child factory labor acceptable to you? Is the possibility of forced labor acceptable to you? Is the possibility of other environmental and worker abuses acceptable to you? If you sell, do you want such items snuck onto the shelves of your shop? They’re not acceptable to us. We don’t want to sell these items, and we don’t want them snuck onto the shelves of our shop. It’s not the sort of activity that builds trust, and it’s not the sort of activity that attracts ethically-concerned sellers.
We’ve deleted these items, removed CafePress’ invented shop from the public directory, and are putting out public notice for you to do the same. We’ve also contacted CafePress’ legal department and are looking forward to making a full complaint. I urge you to call CafePress at 1-877-809-1659 and do the same.