An existential crisis is roiling the Girl Scouts of the USA as it deals with a previously somewhat unimaginable problem: millions of boxes of unsold cookies.
According to the Associated Press, the Girl Scouts typically sell around 200 million boxes of cookies in any given year, generating $800 million in revenue. This year though the organization fell 15 million boxes short of its target.
There is one obvious answer that explains why unusual things happened this year (and last), and that’s “unprecedented global health crisis”: “This is unfortunate, but given this is a girl-driven program and the majority of cookies are sold in-person, it was to be expected,” Kelly Parisi, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA, told the AP.
But local councils and troop leaders have a few other theories about the sales dip, which fell lower than the estimates the national organization calculated to account for the pandemic.
One regional Girl Scouts leader suggested the problem stemmed at least in part from the decline in Girl Scouts membership: Membership hovered around 1.7 million in 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal, a significant decrease from the 2.5 million members who belonged to the organization in 2008. Some Girl Scouts leadership has blamed its falling numbers on the Boy Scouts, which began accepting girls to Cub Scouts in 2018, and began letting girls into the rebranded Scouts BSA the year after. Immediately following the decision, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, president of Girl Scouts of the USA, accused the Boy Scouts of “undercutting” her organization’s recruitment efforts.
It’s unclear how widely this view is shared, but Girl Scouts leaders say they’re noticing the effects of a smaller membership—which for me (and for you, perhaps) raises the question of why the organization relies on children to fund its local troops to begin with. “Without girls, there is no cookie program,” Agenia Clark, president and CEO of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, told the AP. “Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to bring all the problems to the surface.”
Another compounding factor could be an AP story that came out in December 2020—the eve of cookie sale season—linking child labor to the palm oil used in the production of Girl Scout cookies. After the bombshell report, some troops opted out of cookie sales altogether.
As of this writing the plan is to donate the millions of boxes of cookies to food banks, the military, and possibly prisons. That gives the rest of us several more months before we make the decision as to whether or not we’ll buy Girl Scout cookies manufactured with child labor; it also gives the Girl Scouts several months to figure out how to produce (and sell??) their cookies without child labor.