The reasons to boycott Amazon and support small business are greater than ever. Amazon’s once innovative model is now a bastion of consumerism, waste, and abusive practices. CEO Jeff Bezos is jockeying for position as the world’s first trillionaire, with record-breaking profits thanks to COVID-19, yet the company pays little tax and has been widely criticized for its poor treatment of employees and contractors. Amazon’s network of contracted delivery companies have a terrible safety record marked with routine fatalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Amazon’s Ring is building a privatized surveillance network at the expense of consumers’ privacy. Its ads and media infringe on competitors’ trademarks and intellectual property. The list goes on and on and smacks of monopoly. But even before COVID, Bezos predicted that Amazon will fail within 30 years. How much more economic disaster can we suffer at the expense of plutocrats and their corporations?
Stories of delivery contractors pressuring their drivers to move quickly, take more dangerous turns, and even pee in bottles to avoid bathroom breaks in order to satisfy Amazon’s strict timetables are rife. Amazon pays its pilots a third less than FedEx or UPS. Warehouse workers earn less than their GM and Bethlehem Steel unionized predecessors, endure long shifts, and are auto-dismissed by computers if they do not maintain a breakneck pace for the entire work shift. OSHA data and a study from the Strategic Organizing Center reveal that Amazon warehouse employees are injured more frequently and severely — at nearly double the rate — than workers in non-Amazon warehouses.
“Former OSHA officials, union representatives and Amazon workers place the blame on productivity pressures… to meet hourly rates to stow, pick and pack items.” Amazon officials continue to sacrifice safety for speed, because it’s more important that customers be delighted by fast delivery. Some who organize fellow workers, like Courtney Bowden, are fired. Meanwhile Amazon is pursuing technology to track union activity with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite its pledge to be net carbon netural by 2040, Amazon has threatened to fire employees who speak of environmental issues. Amazon’s ubiquity and impact is most visible in a place like Baltimore. At BWI Airport Amazon boasts a $36 million, 200,000-square-foot building with bays for 93 tractor-trailers to load and unload at once. Its 27-acre BWI2 warehouse has over 14 miles of conveyer belt, built with substantial government subsidies.
Ring, Amazon’s doorbell camera security system, was developed in part to mitigate package theft. With more than 600 police partnerships, Ring and its Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal allow police to request camera footage directly from residents without obtaining a warrant. Thanks to dozens of taxpayer-funded camera discount programs, Amazon is quietly building a privatized surveillance network throughout the United States.
While Amazon is still the second-largest retailer in the United States behind Walmart, its greatest profit now comes, not from online orders, but from cloud computing and advertising. “Amazon sees local government as a big purchaser of those [cloud] services, and sees law enforcement as an easy way in to gain those bigger contracts from local government.”
More than half of American households have an Amazon Prime membership (including this author, but not for long), and most shopping searches begin on Amazon, not Google. Amazon’s bread and butter now comes from selling ads based on consumer shopping habits — with profits in the billions.
Among these shopping habits, Amazon’s algorithms noticed many users have been searching for “rub n restore” for their leather furniture. Since at least June 2017 Amazon has been illegally using Rub ‘n Restore’s trademarked brand name in Google, Yahoo and Bing ads. Clicking on the ad diverts shoppers to products sold, not by Rub ‘n Restore, but rather its largest competitor, Furniture Clinic, via Amazon.com. Such brand identity has been hard-earned by CC and Lesandre, the mother-and-daughter owners and operators of Rub ‘n Restore, Inc, through their unique products, compelling how-to videos, and outstanding one-on-one customer support.
Such ads are poor ‘user experience’, violate privacy, divert sales from reputable small business, drive up advertising costs, and infringe on intellectual property.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and district courts have already set precedents favoring Amazon, Google and Microsoft in trademark infringement cases with companies like Williams-Sonoma, Lush Cosmetics, and Prime Trucking Company.
Despite murmurs of anti-trust legislation, the e-commerce giant lobbied for the “Amazon Amendment” to win government sales and signed a lucrative deal with with 1,500 public agencies in 2017.
Amazon employees have used data from independent sellers on the company’s platform — their own customers — to develop competing products, which often crush the smaller companies in the process. In November 2020 the European Commission “charged Amazon with abusing its dominant position in online retail to gain an unfair advantage over competitors.” In May 2021 Karl Racine, Attorney General for Washington DC, filed a suit accusing Amazon of charging third-party sellers on its site fees of up to 40% of a product’s price, as well as stopping them from charging less on other platforms. This causes prices across the entire online retail sales market to be artificially inflated, both for products sold on Amazon’s online retail sales platform and those of its competitors. Amazon’s control of up to 70% of US online sales results in higher prices for consumers.
Can anyone say monopoly?
If these aren’t reasons enough to boycott Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos himself admits, “Amazon is not too big to fail. In fact, I predict one day Amazon will go bankrupt.” Amazon employs over 600,000 people and saw a twenty-fold increase in the last eight years. Amazon’s stock price has more than quadrupled since 2013. Pair that with little sellers who concede to ‘join or die’ the online giant, Amazon’s inevitable decline could eviscerate places like Baltimore and constitute the next big crash. And yet Bezos is “the wealthiest person in modern history.” In July 2020 his fortune increased by $13 billion in a single day.
“The most resilient economies are multi-faceted and home to a diverse number of industries.” Such economies avoid large drops in economic growth and employment and are more likely to experience a faster recovery in a recession or natural disaster. They are too diverse to fail. This is what we need in pandemic times.
Thus it is in our own best interest to support small business at every possible turn, even if it means spending a few extra bucks, waiting in line, socially distanced with a mask, or waiting longer for shipping. Check out this fantastic compendium of competitively priced ethical alternatives to Amazon products and digital services. Join parliamentarians across the globe to make Amazon pay!