Anti-gun activists take aim at Amazon

Global: Amazon’s logo has a smile from A to Z meaning it will deliver “everything to everyone.”

Is Amazon evil? A huge backlash has hit the business for supporting the National Rifle Association. But some say Amazon represents far deeper dangers which put our very democracy at risk.

It all seems so innocuous. You browse Amazon for that new book or gadget. And after a couple of easy clicks your package zooms its way to your door. But those who benefit from such convenience could be unwitting supporters of something far more sinister.

At least that is the argument of anti-gun campaigners who have slammed the company for its links to the pro-gun National Rifle Association (NRA).

The issue is with NRAtv — a TV channel run by the group and streamed through Amazon. Activists, including actress Marcia Cross who accused the company of supporting “evil gun propaganda”, have demanded that it be removed.

This backlash comes after other American companies like Delta Air Lines and Hertz were forced to publicly end associations with the NRA.

However, some think there are reasons to be suspicious of Amazon that reach far deeper than this controversy.

In a damning article journalist Stacy Mitchell declares that the company poses a threat to “liberty and democracy”. She claims that Amazon does not want just to “dominate” the market, it wants to “become the market”.

It all comes down to the company’s aggressive business tactics.

Because it is so rich, Amazon sells many products at a loss to beat its competition into submission. It also tracks the performance of independent businesses on its Marketplace service — ready to undercut successful products with cheaper versions of its own.

This process does not stop at goods. Amazon now sells groceries and even plans to provide healthcare. If this expansion continues, Mitchell predicts a future where small businesses die and almost everything we do will be within a “private arena governed by Amazon”.

And the effects could be disastrous. Researchers have already linked social inequality with the growth of elite companies like Amazon. If a few big players hoover up all the profits, there is less for everyone else.

And if that was not enough, the company continues to be struck by exposés which report appalling working conditions in its offices and warehouses.

But does all this make Amazon evil?

Prime suspect

Of course, some say. The NRA debacle is the tip of the iceberg. Whether it is small businesses or warehouse workers ground into destitution, nothing is sacred in its pursuit of profit and total domination. Regulators must intervene, otherwise its assault on free markets will start to erode our fundamental liberties.

There is nothing evil about success, others say. The convenience of Amazon has revolutionised how we live and shop — and its low prices have made goods more accessible than ever. Whilst it may drive a hard bargain with staff and competitors, that is the price to pay for world-changing innovation.

You Decide

  1. Does Amazon have a good or bad influence on the world?
  2. Will companies become more powerful than countries? Would this be a good thing?

Activities

  1. How much influence does Amazon have on your own life? Is it always your first port of call for internet shopping? Estimate how often you and your family purchase things through the site each month. Discuss in pairs or in small groups. Do you think you could ever give up using it?
  2. Do some research into wider issues surrounding Amazon using resources provided in Become An Expert. Once you have got to grips with these deeper issues, divide a page in half and write down three reasons why Amazon is good, and three why it is bad. Which arguments do you find more convincing?

Some People Say...

“If you can't tolerate critics, don't do anything new or interesting.”

Jess Bezos

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Many Twitter users have reported cancelling their subscriptions to Amazon Prime in the wake of the NRA scandal, although we do not know how many. Despite the backlash Amazon remains one of the world’s most powerful companies. According to Statista, Amazon is the fourth most valuable business in the world, behind Apple, Alphabet (Google’s holding company), and Microsoft.
What do we not know?
We do not know how Amazon will respond to the NRA backlash. A service representative of the company released this statement: “We are working on this. Please don't worry, the correct action will be taken as soon as possible.” Furthermore, a direct causal link between the growth of Amazon and income inequality in America has not been established.

Word Watch

NRA
The pro-gun group has been under sustained attack since the horrific Parkland school shooting last week.
Submission
For example, in 2009 Amazon acquired the shoe retailer Zappos. But this was only after Amazon lost a reported $150m selling its own shoes at below cost price, in order to beat the competition.
Tracks
According to the paper: Competing with Complementors by Feng Zhu and Qihong Liu. Harvard Business School (Revised 2016.)
Marketplace
An area of Amazon.com where 3rd party businesses can sell to Amazon users. The organisation takes a cut of all sales made through the service.
Researchers
For more on this trend see the link from Harvard Business Review in Become An Expert. The absence is crucial of genuine competition if a monopoly is created.
Working conditions
Negative workplace culture has been reported across several areas of the business. For example, a former office worker claimed: “Nearly every person I worked with I saw cry at their desk.” Founder Jeff Bezos has defended working conditions at the company, claiming that Amazon employees are “helping to invent the future, and laughing along the way”.

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