What to do about a big & ugly Amazon
02 April 2021
TUMBY BAY - It seems that slavery is alive and well in the USA and is being perpetuated by one of the richest men in the world. He is Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon.
What began as Bezos’s innovative online bookstore in July 1995, which later assisted writers publish and distribute books, has morphed into a monstrous retail operation that is trampling all in its path, including its own workers.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in his garage at Bellevue in Washington State with big ideas that extended well beyond selling books. Amazon now sells more than 12 million products, not including books.
And it has made Bezos the second richest man in the world with a wealth of nearly $200 billion. Tesla’s Elon Musk just overtook him by a billion dollars this week.
But the people who work in Bezos’s businesses do much worse.
Typically, workers in one of Amazon’s huge warehouses, or ‘fulfilment centres’ in corporate-speak, spend 10 hours a day on their feet tending to an assembly line that spits out packages for delivery once every 11 seconds.
Workers are not allowed to use their phones, they are discouraged from chatting to co-workers and are monitored every second they are there.
They are permitted two breaks of 30 minutes in 10 hours. If they need to go to the toilet the time is deducted from their 10 hours. If they do it too often they can be fired by text message.
A high proportion of Amazon’s warehouse employees are African Americans and Latinos who work for poverty level pay. It is not a surprise that worker turnover is very high.
One employee recently described the conditions as "like a slave camp." Another said workers were treated like robots.
Amazon can afford to pay its workers better wages and it can afford to provide them with better working conditions but is refusing to do so.
In one of Amazon’s fulfilment centres, employees are attempting to organise themselves into a union but Amazon is strenuously resisting.
I think we all know of the appalling conditions in Asian sweatshops in places like Bangladesh but it is a surprise to see the same in the USA, especially in a company often praised for its progressive ideas.
Large companies like Nike which also used sweatshops changed to sourcing products from ethical manufacturers after being strongly criticised.
But, so far, Amazon has not changed its behaviour. It is time it did.
I suspect that for many writers the continued use of Amazon as their publisher and distributor has now become an ethical issue.
Fortunately, there are many print-on-demand publishers in Australia which have developed similar formats to Amazon.
And some of them are prepared to work with writers in Papua New Guinea.
The downsides are that they are more expensive than Amazon and that they don’t have its massive distribution advantages.
So if you are disturbed by Amazon’s treatment of its workers, the question arises whether you’re prepared to pay a higher price for a service with fewer advantages.
At the moment it is wait and see. If the push for unionisation in Amazon succeeds, well and good.
If it fails, it is crunch time for anyone with an ethical approach to life.
Or technology may come to our assistance as other innovative people develop faster, cheaper more convenient ways of publishing and distributing books.
The workers at the Amazon 'fulfilment center' thinking about unionising have overwhelmingly voted not to do so.
Pressure from the company, fear, complacency, or neo-liberal acculturation.... I guess you can't help those who won't help themselves.
I noticed that an Australian bookseller, Fishpond, is no longer a bookshop but also a 'fulfilment center' (spelt in the American way).
Buying stuff is 'fulfilling' in the neo-liberal world apparently.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 April 2021 at 03:19 PM
Amazon is inescapable apparently:
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 07 April 2021 at 09:17 AM
This type of commercial practice that enslaves people should be made known widely. But on the other hand, do the employees have an alternative?. Maybe they don't , so the humane thing to do is for governments to monitor and get such big companies into line.
Posted by: John Kuri | 05 April 2021 at 01:16 PM
Joe Biden talking about his plan to tax big corporations to fund infrastructure spending was reported on the ABC yesterday: "Ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies, including Amazon, pay not a single, solitary penny in income tax."
Not to forget of course that Biden was the vice-president in the Obama administration when they gave huge bail out payments to big corporations during the GFC, many of whom caused the crisis.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 02 April 2021 at 11:14 AM
It is merely one giant festering Ponzi scheme underpinned by aggressive telemarketing and pyramid selling (we get paid when you get paid).
It will eventually come crashing to the ground like a house of cards built on estuarine mudflats.
Some more reading:
Some more watching:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 02 April 2021 at 07:54 AM