When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, he didn’t just open an online store out of a garage in Bellevue, Washington. He established a worldwide business, ready to grab every drop from sellers, workers, consumers, and the environment. The company was able to squeeze more from the pandemic. It doubled its workforce, tripled its profits.
Amazon’s geographic expansion continues apace. Amazon will expand its geographic reach to at least five additional countries in 2023: South Africa, Chile, Colombia and Nigeria. Even with some slowed growth in recent months, Amazon is stronger — and more profitable — than it was three years ago.
Amazon is more than a marketplace. It manufactures and sells its own products using a global supply chain. Amazon Web Services, its cloud services arm, is responsible for a third of all its profits. Amazon is now a major player in the grocery sector, thanks to Whole Foods. Amazon continues to move forward in the healthcare sector with the recent acquisitions of One Medical. Amazon has also become a big player in the entertainment industry — whether that’s Prime Video or Twitch, the live streaming video platform.
The underside of Amazon’s explosive growth, however, is felt by the very people who generate its wealth: its workers. From the lack of masks and other protective equipment during the pandemic to injury rates twice as high as the industry standard to warehouses catching fire, Amazon workers are constantly put at risk — with fatal consequences all too often.
The supply chain is often worse. Amazon is known to have sold clothing from many blacklisted Bangladeshi factories, which were deemed too risky following Rana Plaza’s garment factory collapse. Amazon is refusing to sign legally binding Accord On Fire and Building Safety In Bangladesh. This is a demand from workers, trade unions and activists.
With global inflation rising — and reaching its highest rate in forty years in North America and Europe — the prices of essential goods, such as energy and food, are soaring. The company raises the prices of Prime memberships in many countries, but refuses increase wages to keep up with inflation. Its hardline stances against improving workplace conditions, and recognition of unions, remain unchanged. In the UK, it offered workers a ridiculous 35p raise per hour in August — in other words, a massive real-term pay cut. France and Germany workers rejected real wage cuts. Amazon made $33.3 billion in profit in 2021, but it won’t pay its workers a fair share.
Amazon also undermines our governments’ capacities to fight the cost-of-living crisis. Amazon avoided US corporate federal income taxes of $5.2 billion in 2021. In Europe, Amazon paid no income tax on €55 billion sales, instead receiving €1 billion in tax credits. Amazon continues to ignore attempts by regulators and abuse its market power. In India, Amazon has dodged Indian law, which stipulates that an e-commerce platform can only connect sellers to buyers and — unlike in the United States — not be active as a seller on the platform itself. Amazon has been accused in the United States and Europe of a variety of antitrust violations and unfair competition practices. Amazon spent many years fighting taxes in Bangladesh.
Amazon is continuing to contribute to climate change. Despite its pledge to fully decarbonize its operations by 2040, the corporation’s CO2 emissions rose by 18 percent in 2021. And the number is only so low because — unlike competitors like Target — Amazon is drastically undercounting its carbon footprint: it solely counts its own branded products in its reporting, which make up only 1 percent of its overall sales. Amazon Web Services continues not just to supply fossil fuel companies, but has entered into “strategic collaboration” with some of them. And another chapter was added to Amazon’s history of sponsoring climate denial when, shortly before the US midterm elections, it was revealed that Amazon gave money to at least twenty-five climate-denying candidates.
It is clear that we cannot rely solely on good will to make Amazon pay. Instead, Amazon workers must work together with their trade unions as well as tax watchdogs and regulators. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
Amazon workers from France, Germany, the United States, Turkey, and elsewhere have taken to the streets to demand better working conditions and higher wages over the last few months. They won a partial victory. Amazon in Germany raised wages in September but still below inflation. In the UK, Amazon announced a £500 bonus for warehouse workers.
Regulators and politicians, too, are pushing back on the corporation’s anticompetitive behavior. Amazon had to cut its stakes in India’s largest sellers to prevent abuse of its market power. In the United States, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act — the first major effort by Congress to regulate Big Tech in the internet age — would prevent Amazon from featuring its own brand, Amazon Basics, at the top of a product search above other similar products. In the European Union, the Digital Markets Act, which was approved in the summer of 2022, will make Amazon’s use of third-party data from small and medium enterprises to compete with rival products on its own marketplace illegal.
These are great victories but Amazon workers, our societies and the planet need more.
That’s why workers and organizers are uniting on November 25 in a campaign to Make Amazon Pay. Amazon will be the target of protests from across the globe, from South Africa to Bangladesh to the United States.