A Peace and Justice Tax for the Holidays

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Two online shopping malls levy a peace and justice tax on big retailers to fund peace and justice organizations. Find out which one to use.

Imagine that every present this holiday season generates a sales tax to fund peace and justice organizations. Call it a peace and justice tax, a PJT. Now, imagine that this PJT costs consumers nothing, that it is paid exclusively by big retailers. Hard to imagine? Not for the two web sites Working Assets' ShopForChange and HEARTof.com. They are not only imagining this PJT, they are levying it.

Here is how: Both sites feature shopping malls that sell nothing of their own, but rather link to big online retailers. Click on the Barnes and Noble link at either ShopForChange or HEARTof.com, for example, and you cybertrip over to the regular BN.com site, with the same prices and products as usual. Make a purchase, and Barnes and Noble pays ShopForChange or HEARTof.com a referral fee, or in other words, a tax on that sale. ShopForChange or HEARTof.com then turn this sales tax into a PJT by donating a portion of it to a peace and justice organization.

Despite these similarities, ShopForChange and HEARTof.com differ dramatically. HEARTof.com pays organizations a bigger PJT, offers shoppers many more stores, donates to a broader range of peace and justice organizations, and allows shoppers to choose the organizations that receive the PJT from their purchases.

First, HEARTof.com pays organizations more than ShopForChange. Both sites explain what they pay in terms of percentages of purchase prices. In these terms, ShopForChange pays from 3 to 5% of purchase prices and averages about 4.3%. HEARTof.com, whose website boasts the "Web's Biggest Donations," pays from .5% on certain computers up to 40% on certain magazines and averages over 7.2%. In terms of shares of the tax they levy on big retailers, ShopForChange keeps about 50% and pays organizations about 50%; HEARTof.com keeps less than 25% and pays organizations more than 75%.

Second, HEARTof.com has many more stores than ShopForChange. The latter has a mini-mall of nine stores. HEARTof.com currently has over 325 stores.

Third, HEARTof.com will donate to a broader range of peace and justice organizations than ShopForChange.

ShopForChange's web site explains that its revenues flow to Working Assets, and that the latter funds only 50 peace and justice groups in any year, and only groups that are national or international in scope and that work on "peace & International Freedom, Civil Rights, Economic & Social Justice, Environment, and Education and Freedom of Expression." Working Assets will not donate to groups that raise awareness of or research a particular disease, or that are tied to a specific religion or denomination.

HEARTof.com's web site explains that it will donate to any number of national or international peace and justice groups, but also any number of regional or local groups, regardless of whether they are religiously affiliated or not. HEARTof.com will help groups that "promote peace, justice, or human, animal, or environmental betterment, broadly defined" and that do not act out or advocate "violence or disrespect toward people, animals or the environment."

Lastly, HEARTof.com allows shoppers actually to choose who gets the PJT from their purchases, whereas ShopForChange allows shoppers only limited input.

Registered shoppers at ShopForChange, like other Working Assets' members, are allowed to nominate groups and to vote on the relative share of available donations that go to the groups that get chosen. But Working Assets' Board of Directors and employees actually decide which groups receive contributions from the combined revenue streams of Working Assets' online shopping, credit card, long-distance telephone and other businesses.

By contrast, at HEARTof.com each shopper signs up to have his or her shopping help whatever peace and justice group he or she chooses. "Big capital, especially its more politically progressive sectors, have long bragged about their dedication to empowering people, including consumers," says founder and HEARTof.com CEO, Frank Fitzgerald, "but we actually do it."

So which of these sites should interested peace and justice groups encourage their supporters to use? It depends.

If an organization fits Working Assets' more narrow qualifications and has some reason to believe that Working Assets' board members and employees will choose it as one of the 50 groups they fund each year, it might want to go with ShopForChange.

But any national or international organization that has no knowledge of the intentions of Working Assets' board and employees, as well as regional, local, or religiously affiliated groups, will want to go with HEARTof.com. So long as an organization has even one supporter shopping online through HEARTof.com, that organization is assured of receiving their share of HEARTof.com's PJT.

And this holiday season, this is virtually the only way that most peace and justice organizations are going to get a share of a PJT.

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Frank Fitzgerald
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