Amazon, the most powerful e-commerce company in the world, has a weak history of trying to correct its dangerous labor practices that often lead to the exploitation of blue-collar workers.
Not only is the e-commerce company using its power to censor and deplatform content and organizations it doesn’t agree with, but the corporate giant also engages its influence, which it claims to dedicate to “improving lives” and financially supporting leftist movements such as Black Lives Matter with millions of dollars, to provide damage control for its clear pattern of dangerous and derogatory working conditions in its facilities all around the world.
In the midst of the largest and longest government-induced lockdowns in American history, a self-inflicted tragedy that put a dent in the nation’s economy, business at Amazon was booming. Not only did the e-commerce company hire more than 427,300 employees all around the world in 10 short months, but the company confessed just four months into the lockdowns that its revenue shot up by at least 40 percent compared to 2019, a jump aided and abetted by politicians and health officials who continued to keep brick and mortar stores closed.
Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once again assumed the title of the world’s richest person this year, clocking a record-breaking $200 billion net worth last August. Even as he prepares to step away from his position, the founder will still reap the benefits of building the largest, most powerful e-commerce company in the world.
Amazon’s track record with its workers, though, doesn’t necessarily reconcile with its corporate financial success. One simple internet search about Amazon’s lack of fair labor practices provides hundreds of thousands of results detailing hazards such as high or low temperatures in warehouses, items, and products that are too heavy for a worker to handle unassisted, excessive standing periods, heightened productivity rushed by the threat of losing the job, elaborate non-compete agreements, a lack of breaks, instructions to not call 911 if anything goes wrong, and other dangers that resulted in injuries, illness, and in some cases, contributed to death.
For more than a decade, Amazon employees all around the world have spoken out about the “sweatshop” working conditions in the company’s warehouses and on delivery routes as the company routinely engages in dishonest campaigns that boast of “robust safety management” even during peak business seasons. Contrary to Amazon’s claims, internal data reports spanning at least five years show that injury rates among Amazon employees are rising and tend to spike on huge e-commerce days such as Cyber Monday.
In 2019 alone, “Amazon fulfillment centers recorded 14,000 serious injuries – those requiring days off or job restrictions” and saw an “overall rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees was 33% higher than in 2016 and nearly double the most recent industry standard.” Even after Amazon added robots to many of its facilities to “make employees’ jobs easier and safer,” records show that “most of the warehouses with the highest rates of injury deployed robots.”
Between 2016 and 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened more than 100 federal investigations into Amazon’s labor practices that often resulted in prompts from the agency for the company to “change conditions that posed hazards to employees.” Amazon, however, often combated OSHA’s recommendations by pointing to its use of AmCare clinics to provide onsite aid to any employees who might need it. Worker complaints and reports about on-the-job injuries and disabilities, however, often extend far beyond what “first aid” care requires.
“Between 2015 and 2018, OSHA reported 41 ‘severe’ injuries resulting in hospitalization, including six amputations and 15 fractures, associated with Amazon delivery or fulfillment jobs,” Mother Jones reported in 2019.
In one instance in 2011, Amazon warehouse workers in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, an area close to urban hubs such as Philadelphia and New York City, said they were forced to work through temperatures inside that rose to more than 100 degrees in summers, which often resulted in heat-induced sickness and injury that reinforced the company’s habit of hiring temporary workers through Integrity Staffing Solutions that they can quickly dispose of and replace.
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Amazon continues to use its power to manipulate the public into thinking its warehouses and delivery activities are safe and secure. But as the global company’s power grows, it is evident that the problems left unaddressed will grow also. Blue-collar workers who need jobs will continue to turn to the company as it expands its reach by building new warehouses stocked with temporary staff, but they could leave the company with severe, life-long injuries only to be quickly replaced and forgotten by their previous employer and politicians who claim to represent their best interests.
To keep customers happy, which Mr. Bezos has long said is Amazon’s fixation and growth strategy, executives behind the scenes have methodically waged targeted campaigns against rivals and partners alike—an approach that has changed little through the years, from diapers to footwear.
No competitor is too small to draw Amazon’s sights. It cloned a line of camera tripods that a small outside company sold on Amazon’s site, hurting the vendor’s sales so badly it is now a fraction of its original size, the little firm’s owner said. Amazon said it didn’t violate the company’s intellectual-property rights.
When Amazon decided to compete with furniture retailer Wayfair Inc., Mr. Bezos’s deputies created what they called the Wayfair Parity Team, which studied how Wayfair procured, sold and delivered bulky furniture, eventually replicating a majority of its offerings, said people who worked on the team. Amazon and Wayfair declined to comment on the matter.
Amazon set its sights on Allbirds Inc., the maker of popular shoes using natural and recycled materials, and last year launched a shoe called Galen that looks nearly identical to Allbirds’ bestseller—without the environmentally friendly materials and selling for less than half the price.
“You can’t help but look at a trillion-dollar company putting their muscle and their pockets and their machinations of their algorithms and reviewers and private-label machine all behind something that you’ve put your career against,” said Allbirds Co-CEO Joey Zwillinger. “You have this giant machine creating all these headwinds for us.”
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Some rivals and partners say Amazon’s competitive zeal looks like unfair practices. The Journal this year reported that Amazon employees used data about independent sellers on its platform to develop competing products and that it has used the investment and deal-making process in ways that entrepreneurs and others said helped it develop products that competed with its would-be partners. Journal reporting showed how Amazon has limited some competitors’ ability to promote rival streaming devices and other gadgets on its dominant e-commerce platform.
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Shoe seller Allbirds, too, refused persistent Amazon efforts to get it to sell on the tech giant’s site, said Mr. Zwillinger, the co-CEO. The San Francisco startup launched its first shoe, “Wool Runner,” in 2016. It was the product of three years of research and development, using fabric from an Italian mill and a sole that was “carbon neutral,” produced with a Brazilian chemical company.
The lightweight shoe became an instant success. Amazon consistently contacted Allbirds between 2017 and 2019 to sell on its site, said Mr. Zwillinger. Allbirds always declined.
Allbirds’ team in mid-2017 began noticing that, on Google’s search engine, the top results for “Wool Runner” were knockoffs from outside vendors on Amazon, Mr. Zwillinger said. Allbirds believed Amazon was buying advertisements on Google to siphon demand for the shoes to itself, he said.
Mr. Zwillinger said it isn’t possible to track the damage to his company, but that “to see a company with the deep pockets of Amazon try to siphon off demand and give it to copycats is really frustrating.”
Then came the Galen shoe. Mr. Zwillinger said he believes search data guided Amazon’s decision to clone his hit product, which he said looks “eerily similar” to his shoe.
“I’m not saying whether they did or didn’t infringe. We didn’t get a lawyer involved,” he said. Because of Amazon’s size, he said, “it seems like that’s going to be an uphill battle that’s not worth fighting.”
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At roundtables with its sellers, the people said, Amazon has learned that many had been defecting to Shopify because of increasing fees from Amazon, which on average collects 30% of each sale on its platform from outside vendors, up from 19% five years ago, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Shopify collects 2.9% plus 30 cents a transaction.
Many alternatives to Amazon, including BandH Photo, WalMart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, HayNeedle, WayFair, Fry’s Electronics, Etsy, NewEgg, Your local hardware store, etc., etc. Use product name, SKU, ISBN, model number to search for alternatives.
Amazon has a “bullying” problem.
So insisted PopSockets CEO and inventor David Barnett today while describing his company’s relationship with the e-commerce and logistics giant. Barnett was addressing members of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law and, over the course of the hearing, laid out how the Jeff Bezos-helmed corporate behemoth had pressured his smartphone accessory company in a manner best described as incredibly shady.
Barnett was joined by executives from Sonos, Basecamp, and Tile, who all took turns airing a list of grievances against major tech players such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They all recounted, in manners specific to their respective companies, how the major tech players have used their market dominance to squeeze smaller competitors in allegedly anticompetitive ways.
The CEO of PopSockets, however, appeared to have a personal beef with Jeff Bezos (which he pronounced “Bey-zoo”).
“Multiple times we discovered that Amazon itself had sourced counterfeit product and was selling it alongside our own product,” he noted.
Barnett, under oath, told the gathered members of the House that Amazon initially played nice only to drop the hammer when it believed no one was watching. After agreeing to a written contract stipulating a price at which PopSockets would be sold on Amazon, the e-commerce giant would then allegedly unilaterally lower the price and demand that PopSockets make up the difference.
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter asked Barnett how Amazon could “ignore the contract that [PopSockets] entered into and just say, ‘Sorry, that was our contract, but you got to lower your price.'”
Barnett didn’t mince words.
“With coercive tactics, basically,” he replied. “And these are tactics that are mainly executed by phone. It’s one of the strangest relationships I’ve ever had with a retailer.”
Barnett emphasized that, on paper, the contract “appears to be negotiated in good faith.”
However, he claimed, this is followed by “… frequent phone calls. And on the phone calls we get what I might call bullying with a smile. Very friendly people that we deal with who say, ‘By the way, we dropped the price of X product last week. We need you to pay for it.'”
Barnett said he would push back and that’s when “the threats come.”
Amazon is a den of thieves