Calls to boycott Amazon as parcels pile up

Prime mover: Amazon has more than 150 million square feet of warehouse space around the world. © Getty

Should you boycott Amazon for Christmas? In the coming weeks, we will order 41 parcels every second. Not bad for a company that critics say exploits its workers and dodges billions in tax.

Who delivers the presents at Christmas? Father Christmas?

Not quite. In 2019, the answer is Amazon, the online marketplace, that sells everything from books to smartphones, fancy-dress costumes to packs of live ladybirds.

Amazon delivers over five billion packages a year through its Prime membership scheme alone. In the run-up to Christmas, shoppers in the UK will order 41 parcels every second from the e-commerce giant.

The company’s global dominance has made owner Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world. He earns in one second what the average Amazon warehouse worker makes in five weeks.

But Guardian journalist Zoe Williams has called for a total boycott of Amazon this year, calling out its culture of low pay, worker exploitation and tax avoidance.

Employee accounts paint Amazon’s fulfilment centres as warehouses of horror, where workers are treated like machines.

The delivery giant has patented wristbands that will track employees’ movements at all times, and buzz to guide their hands to parcels faster. Workers are typically expected to process a package every nine seconds from 7.30am to 6pm, with many urinating in plastic bottles to avoid being fired on the spot.

After an employee collapsed and died on the warehouse floor, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health placed Amazon on its 2019 Dirty Dozen list of the most dangerous employers in the USA.

When it is not being criticised over Dickensian working conditions, Amazon is being called out for aggressive tax dodging. Last year, the company did not pay a single cent of US federal income tax on more than $11 billion in profits.

But, for Williams, perhaps the most important reason to boycott Amazon is for Bezos’s “scorched-Earth” determination to make the world so dependent on the company that no other retailer can survive.

“This would leave everyone, in every country, at any point in the consumer experience supply chain, being treated as badly as the worst-off Amazon worker,” writes Williams.

Is she right? Should we boycott Amazon this Christmas?

World domination?

It’s unrealistic, say some. Amazon is the fastest, most efficient and convenient option out there. Responsibility doesn’t lie with consumers, who are simply making the best choice they can, it lies with a system that rewards companies for squeezing costs as much as possible. Boycott Amazon, and another company will swoop in to undercut them with more hidden, underpaid workers. It’s more important to actively support workers’ rights and laws that will counter this exploitation.

But we must boycott, writes Zoe Williams. Aside from the sickening knowledge that Jeff Bezos is the richest man alive, while one in three Amazon employees in Arizona rely on food stamps to get by, we must fight Amazon’s aggressive campaign to take over our lives and monetise our private lives. If we do not spread our money more widely, Amazon will spell the end of competition and our freedom to choose. It will make drones of us.

You Decide

  1. Will you boycott Amazon this Christmas?
  2. Is Amazon evil?

Activities

  1. Make an alternative Christmas wish list of at least three presents from ethical sources.
  2. Make a one-page fact file on Jeff Bezos. Include a picture and five interesting facts about him.

Some People Say...

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Jeff Bezos, US entrepreneur

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Just yesterday, it emerged that a UK government contract has given Amazon free access to vast quantities of NHS data, which could allow Alexa to peddle Amazon products while giving medical advice. According to the Fair Tax Mark organisation, Amazon is the worst of the big six US tech firms for avoiding tax by moving revenue and profits through tax havens or low-tax countries.
What do we not know?
What Amazon’s master plan looks like. Critics like Zoe Williams argue that the company is trying to eliminate all competition in order to make us reliant on it, at which point it could raise prices. A number of politicians across the world have called for Amazon to be broken up under anti-trust laws, on the grounds that it hinders competition.

Word Watch

Live ladybirds
Pots of live ladybirds (or ladybugs in American English) are one of the more unusual products for sale on Amazon.
E-commerce
Buying and selling online rather than in brick-and-mortar shops.
Richest man
In recent weeks, Bezos’s title as been challenged by Bill Gates (Microsoft founder), as Amazon’s share price has fluctuated.
Boycott
To stop engaging with a brand or organisation as an act of protest or punishment.
Tax avoidance
Using loopholes to legally minimise the amount of tax you must pay. Tax evasion is the illegal refusal to pay tax.
Patented
A licence giving you the right to develop and sell a particular technology.
Fired on the spot
In April, The Verge reported that Amazon employees were fired if they failed to meet targets to pack hundreds of boxes per hour.
Died
In September, 48-year-old Billy Foister died following a heart attack at a US warehouse. His fellow workers claim they were told to get back to work shortly after.
Dickensian
In his books, Charles Dickens often depicts the awful conditions in Victorian workhouses.
Single cent
Amazon is granted tax deductions by the US government to permit it to reinvest more in the business.
Scorched-Earth
This scorched-earth policy usually refers to a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy when retreating from a position.
Monetise our private lives
More than 100 million Alexa smart assistants have been sold.

Subjects

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