It’s happening again. In front of nearly every Safeway, Haggen and Fred Meyer store, young girls can be seen shivering in front of tables stacked high with boxes upon boxes of cookies. Yes, Girl Scout cookie season is back and along with it the crowds of people around the cookie-selling tables and students bringing these treats to school to share. This season always brings up many questions, at least for me. When did it become acceptable for young children to stand out in the cold selling items to random strangers? Why are mothers and troop leaders coaxing little 9-year-old girls to go up to big, burly men and basically beg them to buy their treats? I’ve seen it happen. It’s not pretty and I don’t think any of the people involved enjoyed the situation. I don’t think that selling Girl Scout cookies is a very ethical practice.
According to the official Girl Scouts website, this 100-year-old tradition started with mothers volunteering to bake sugar cookies for the girls to sell in the 1910s. This original practice seems innocent enough. There were smaller neighborhoods then, and everyone seemed to know each other. This practice continued, escalating at a slow pace until the Greater Philadelphia branch of the organization took it one step further and started selling cookies commercially. It wasn’t until 1951 that girls started going to shopping malls to sell cookies and this was what helped increase sales to what they are today.
The website states that participating in these sales helped girls develop “their marketing and business skills” and that they make their communities a better place by doing so. How does that happen? The tactics Girl Scout troops use aren’t exactly professional marketing strategies. I have heard mothers and troop leaders tell girls to “shiver more,” and to “look cold” as well as use their “puppy eyes.” Many of the people I have talked to also recall hearing these things. They are basically asking people to feel sorry for them, something that most companies would never do. When companies market, they want to convince people that their products are the best, that their cause is the best and that they are the best. None of these things are done by Girl Scouts. Also, the idea that selling these cookies makes the community a better place seems to be a statement they made up, since there was no supporting evidence. If it helps better the community by supporting Girl Scouts, then why don’t they just say so?
Then there is the question of whether Girl Scouts really does affect the community in a positive way. Nearly half of my female friends were in Girl Scouts, but almost all of them quit due to too much stress in cookie sales, not earning enough badges to go to the special camps, and adults or other members just being plain mean to them. Many of them recount the selling of cookies with a less than enthusiastic attitude, describing it as cold, scary and unpleasant.
In addition to being a scary and cold job, selling cookies outside of stores can be dangerous. Anyone can show up at supermarkets and malls. It raises inquiries about whether we should really be letting these girls do this.
Of course, Girl Scout cookie sales don’t have to stop entirely. People are so enthusiastic about the cookies, the girls would make just as much money if they were selling them inside in the warmth rather than outside in the cold. Additionally, people can now purchase these cookies online in a way which, according to the website, “retains the one-to-one personal approach to selling that is essential to the program.” The more people buy online, the less time girls will need to spend selling them in person, giving them more time to spend on activities that they actually want to do.