Amazon or Amazoff?
Rachael Powell investigates Amazon’s role during the pandemic and its reputation for poor working conditions, begging the question, can we and should we boycott Amazon?
During lockdown, Amazon was a lifeline for many. With its – albeit slower than usual – reliable delivery, vast stock and sheer convenience, Amazon was a place many turned to with little forethought. Unlike many businesses these past few months, Amazon has performed remarkably well; its net profit is more than double previous year’s, at $5.2 billion compared to 2019’s $2.6 billion.
However, the overwhelming success of Amazon begs the question: at what – or whose – expense? Before 2020, there were concerns about workers’ conditions, which have only been exacerbated during the pandemic. Many workers note that it is not the work that they are doing but the rate at which they are expected to do the work that makes it so difficult. Algorithms produce the rate workers need to process items, and if they fall below this rate they can be automatically fired. The pressure to keep up leads to many workers suffering from repetitive stress injuries, resulting in some warehouses even having painkiller vending machines.
The overwhelming success of Amazon begs the question: at what – or whose – expense?
During lockdown, many workers feared that their contraction of Covid-19 was inevitable due to crowded workplaces, lack of cleaning supplies, and workers with symptoms not receiving sick pay. In late March, some workers performed strikes, walkouts, and sickouts as a way to demand better health protection. Amazon was quick to respond, spending $4 billion on Covid-19 safety measures, such as: two weeks’ paid leave if tested positive for Covid-19, unlimited unpaid time off, new cleaning procedures, encouraging social distancing, doubling overtime pay (in North America), and increasing wages by $2. Yet, for many this was still not good enough: a petition signed by 5210 workers called for paid sick leave regardless of diagnosis, hazard pay, the shutdown of facilities with Covid-19 for deep cleaning, and ending penalties for not meeting the rate. Some Amazon workers involved in protests were fired, suggesting a lack of free speech, yet this is denied by Amazon. An Amazon spokesperson claimed that those protesting were a very small percentage of their employee base.
With Amazon’s well-known tax evasions and questionable worker’s conditions, some customers may consider doing their Christmas shopping elsewhere. Despite its tax evasions, it could be argued that Amazon brings a lot of benefits to the community; its cheap books has made reading more accessible, and during the pandemic it has employed an additional 175,000 people, and new jobs can only be a good thing as the world crawls out of a wrecked economy. Amazon has also donated $27 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, and gave a one-off bonus to its frontline workers equating to $500 million, suggesting at least some concern for their communities.
Buying from small businesses is supporting someone’s dream
However, as an owner of a small business, I know first-hand the importance of shopping small instead of feeding into large corporations. Small businesses tend to be more environmentally friendly, as they create products on a much smaller scale, and – at least with my experience – have greater concern when it comes to their packaging. Buying from small businesses is supporting someone’s dream, and often you receive a handmade and personalised item that the maker has taken great care in creating.
Yet, it can’t be denied that Amazon’s prices can be irresistible, and with our damaged economy, circulating money – even if it is with Amazon – is one way of getting us back on our feet. My advice is to be conscious of where you are spending your money, and vote with your feet. Attempting to boycott Amazon (which is surprisingly difficult as they are involved with a lot of e-commerce, including Netflix, EasyJet and British Gas) will hit Amazon where it hurts the most: its wallet.