Amazon: dirty work, surveillance, and exploitation

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Amazon: dirty work, surveillance, and exploitation

Our US correspondent Mark Engler writes about Amazon's dirty work.


Jeff Bezos is founder of Amazon. The problem of Amazon’s market dominance and bad political influence is a global issue. Photo: Reuters

In January, The Guardian newspaper reported that Amazon had patented designs for a new wristband. The wristband would follow the movements of company workers, and it could track where they place their hands and use vibrations to get them to go in a different direction.

Another Amazon patent would put workers in a cage, on top of a robot. It would allow the worker to move through a warehouse on the same system used to cart around merchandise. Amazon promises that the cage is not in use, but this is still worrying.

Company founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man. He is worth over $150 billion, which means more than the wealth of Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, and the Sultan of Brunei all together. In August 2018, Amazon was the second corporation after Apple to be worth a trillion dollars.

Outsourcing for cheap labour

Like Apple, Amazon has outsourced the production of things such as the Kindle to Foxconn factories in China. Foxconn is well known for long hours, low wages, and nets put up to stop workers jumping to commit suicide. In America, Amazon’s warehouses are criticised for very high temperatures, very boring work hours, and surveillance. About one-third of the company’s employees in Arizona are paid so poorly they qualify for public benefits such as food assistance.

In early September 2108, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill – the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act. It aims to have tax large corporations to pay for public anti-poverty support that their workers may need. Because of Sanders’s criticism, Amazon tried to find stories from happy workers. The workers received gift cards and extra time off for tweeting about how happy they were. No politician will criticise Amazon

Unfortunately, most politicians do not want to criticise Amazon. Amazon made $5.6 billion in profit in the US in 2017, but paid $0 in taxes. Many mayors are doing everything they can to have Amazon’s second headquarters in their cities. But the problem of Amazon’s market dominance and bad political influence is not only a problem for the US. By 2015, Amazon was sending more than a billion units every year to customers in Europe, where it now has more than 50,000 workers. In India, Amazon is fighting Flipkart for dominance. In Japan, Amazon is the second-largest online retailer, fighting with Rakuten.

Prime day strikes

Sanders has offered a good model for giving a public response. And Japanese regulators have criticised Amazon for putting pressure on suppliers. Even better is the example of warehouse workers in Germany, Poland, and Spain. They went on strike during the 2018 summer ‘Prime Day’.

We hope that this kind of action is just a beginning. It will need an international directory of anti-monopoly laws to stop Jeff Bezos from making even more dirty money. And it will need many more of Amazon’s workers to take action.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)