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March 10, 2010, Civil Society | Are you or have you ever been a “chugger”? That’s the question in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the firm that manages the city center for local businesses, probably the equivalent of a merchants association in the U.S., wants the authorities to ask about the fresh-faced charity fundraisers that tap shoppers for donations to their charity sponsors. In the U.S., we see “chuggers” (the term The Scotsman used in an editorial, short apparently for charitable mugger) as the young canvassers with clipboards and sign-up petitions that typically lead to a request for a contribution. Interestingly, there is an agency in Scotland—the Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority—that regulates street fundraising. The head of the PFRA hasn’t apparently been contacted by the downtown business firm (Essential Edinburgh) and its executive director says that there have been few complaints and no evidence that the chuggers deter people from shopping. There’s actually much more to this issue than the business reaction against charitable fundraisers and others in front of their shops and stores. In 2006, Dana Fisher wrote a very controversial book about the low pay and horrible working conditions of young political canvassers (Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America). We suspect that the kids who tap shoppers in downtown Edinburgh or in front of Borders in Washington D.C.’s Friendship Heights area are paid and treated little better than the political canvassers Fisher described working for the People’s Project in 2003. How much above or below minimum wage are these canvassers paid? What do they accomplish for their charities? At the Pentagon City shopping mall a few weeks ago, we encountered canvassers pitching the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Was the UNHCR looking for donations? Were the young people at the UNHCR table informed enough to speak to the dimensions of the refugee problems that the agency addresses, frequently amidst great controversy? We suspect that charitable fundraisers are not the chuggers that The Scotsman finds so objectionable. But we also suspect that some of these young canvassers are deployed as cheap labor and, in the U.S., with little regulatory oversight by anything comparable to the PFRA.—Rick Cohen