When the massive tech conglomerate Google became Alphabet in 2015 they changed their slogan to “Do the right thing”. You wanna know what it was originally? “Don’t Be Evil”. Beyond the literal change Google, and many other tech companies, have shifted from this idea. From privacy scandals to sexual harassment settlements to discrimination in its various forms, companies have let ethics go by the wayside for a variety of reasons. And in my book the worst culprit is a company once known as “Cadabra”.
Since its humble roots in 1994 Amazon has expanded from an online bookstore to a ubiquitous organization that stretches so deeply into everyday life you would be amazed. Amazon made headlines as one of the first companies to pass a valuation of 1 trillion dollars, and the former Wall Street exec who sits atop the empire is the richest man in the world with a net worth estimated at over $100 billion (he’s also the first person in modern history to accumulate that much bread).
But behind the successes of the man at the top, the people at the lowest get squeezed for everything they have. Logically, transitioning from having to leave your house, drive to a store, find and purchase the item, and then transport it home to having it delivered to you with a cost that is also less expensive then in the stores must take a short cut somewhere. There is no algorithm behind it, theses savings of time and money come at the cost of the fulfillment center associates.
Multiple reports and interviews detail the conditions within these massive buildings. Employees are highly scrutinized and to quote one former associate will be let go with “any excuse”. The rate at which they pick and place boxes, there steps and other metrics are used to measure the workers efficiency and if your not up to snuff they have no issue telling you so. The labor pool for these jobs is almost unlimited so the workers are treated as disposable. This allows Amazon to wringing every last drop from the employees. One 70 year-old former Amazon center worker reported walking upwards of 15 miles daily. He also reported, at times, having to bounce from end to end of the 2–3 football field length warehouse. The employees are only given a certain window to retrieve products, and according to a separate employee often pick up 200 items per hour. And in case you think, well an older gentleman has no place in one of theses facilities, a twenty year old reported similar levels of exhaustion following hid shifts, literally stating his body “gave out” upon arriving home. Warehouse workers, including those in Amazon’s centers, are more prone to injury than coal miners and construction workers. One worker who was injured on the job, was eventually left homeless and offered a $3,500 settlement in exchange for signing an NDA and not disparaging Amazon. And if you need more convincing of the conditions search the news for “bear mace Amazon”. I’ll wait. And despite all of this, they refuse to allow the creation of unions, claiming they are not “anti-union” but are not “neutral”.
If you find the grey area here please let me know. If you wan’t to avoid Amazon, in protest or solidarity with their employees, that is also incredibly difficult. Ignoring the fact that a large number of manufacturers have shifted to selling products on Amazon rather than on their own platforms. The number of users of AWS or Amazon Web Services is astounding. Everything from Twitter to Netflix to Facebook. Getting around the web without stumbling on an AWS hosted site is all but impossible and shopping gets that much more difficult.
There are benefits to Amazon. The $15 wage and fulfillment centers do provide jobs for people and help to ease the transition from traditional brick and mortar stores to e commerce. The convenience is undeniable for the consumer and it provides access to products that might typically be out of reach. It also lowers the cost of activation for companies that want to enter markets. And the argument can be made that all the people who work in the centers know what they are in for and chose to continue. But maybe put a little more thought in before ordering those fuzzy slippers or 10 pound bag of trail mix? Cheers.
Note: This post is inspired by an episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight on warehouses.