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Tricia Robinson, an illustrator who has been selling prints, stickers and buttons on Etsy since 2013, works in her home in Montreal on April 11.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Thousands of Etsy ETSY-Q sellers are closing their online shops this week in protest of increased fees implemented by the company they say was built on their handmade and artisanal products.

The Etsy strike, as the protest is being called by its creators, started Monday and is scheduled to last for a week. It will involve about 17,000 Etsy sellers worldwide, according to Kristi Cassidy, a Rhode Island-based seller and one of the leaders of the movement.

While the group has five demands, the strike is most directly in response to Etsy’s move to increase the processing fee it charges sellers by 30 per cent from 5 per cent to 6.5 per cent, effective on Monday.

Ms. Cassidy said the fee increase was the final straw for her and many other sellers. For years, Etsy has been moving away from supporting sellers of handmade goods who built its brand, she said.

“This doesn’t end unless we do something and we band together against them and try to fight back,” Ms. Cassidy said in an interview.

In the announcement of the fee increase, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said it will facilitate improvements that will translate to more sales for sellers.

Alesha Holian, a Rivers, Man.-based owner of TheKnitSide on Etsy, hoped to use earnings from her shop to support a return to postsecondary education after losing employment in December. Instead, she’s yet to make a profit because of Etsy’s processing fees and advertising charges.

“When you’re not making any money and you’re waiting for a job to call you back and you’re basically paying a company to have your items listed, so that you can hopefully make money, it’s like a lose-lose situation,” Ms. Holian said.

Although thousands of protesters have agreed to participate, they represent a small proportion of about 7.5 million Etsy sellers worldwide, according to the company’s website. There are 199,000 Etsy sellers in Canada, according to the company’s 2020 seller census.

Ms. Cassidy recognizes the difficult odds the movement faces. “The strike is not the end, it is only the beginning,” she said.

Ultimately, she hopes this will be the first of a series of actions, potentially taking place on the 11th of each month, that will culminate with the formation of some sort of Etsy seller’s union.

There have been past protests by Etsy sellers, where thousands have changed their profile pictures or migrated to new sites. But Samantha Close, an assistant professor at DePaul University who studies digital marketplaces with a focus on Etsy, said this strike is a form of collective action the company hasn’t faced before.

Etsy is based on a more co-operative model than a traditional retail company, she said, so leaving the platform isn’t a successful way of improving it. “The sellers aren’t employees, and yet they’re essential. In the same way that an Uber driver isn’t an employee of Uber, but is essential to the operations of the company. And so they’re saying this is a shared space, and we need to do more to share it.”

Tricia Robinson, a Montreal-based Etsy seller and labour organizer taking part in the strike, believes the protest will help determine “how a non-traditional type of job can have worker protections.”

Ms. Robinson said Canadian sellers in particular are punished by some of Etsy’s policies. She first became frustrated with Etsy in 2019, when it began giving more exposure to shops that provided U.S. customers with free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

Prior to the new policy, Ms. Robinson said her shop had many cross-border sales. “I chose not to opt-in because Canadian postal prices are really high. And free shipping, it’s just not realistic,” she said. “I lost all my U.S. sales. And I’m not exaggerating, I lost all of them.”

Protesters also want a comprehensive plan to crack down on people who resell factory-made goods on the platform, as well as improvements to Etsy’s slow support system for sellers. They also demand that a program charging shops for ads on other sites become optional for sellers who earn more than $10,000 a year, and an end to the star seller program, which rewards shop owners with a public “star seller” badge for working at an unsustainable pace.

Sellers aren’t expecting those demands to be met solely because of this action. The biggest outcome of the strike will be to Etsy’s brand image, said Prof. Close.

She said Etsy is trying to compete with online shopping portals such as Amazon and Walmart. “But the big thing that distinguishes Etsy is that it has this brand of being handmade, being small and being artisanal.” The strike is in total opposition to that image, she said. “Because it’s the people who are small and independent, who are participating.”

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