When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, he didn’t just open an online store out of a garage in Bellevue, Washington. He established a worldwide business, ready to grab every last drop from sellers, workers, consumers, and the environment. The pandemic gave the company an opportunity to extract even more. It doubled the workforce and tripled its profit.
Amazon’s geographic expansion continues apace. Amazon intends to expand into at least five countries by 2023: South Africa (Belgium), Chile, Colombia, Nigeria and Colombia. Even with some slowed growth in recent months, Amazon is stronger — and more profitable — than it was three years ago.
Amazon is much more than just a marketplace. Amazon is a global marketplace that makes and sells products. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud services arm, now holds a third share of the global market. Amazon now has Whole Foods as a partner in the grocery business. The recent acquisition of One Medical has allowed the company to continue its progress in the health care industry. Amazon has also become a big player in the entertainment industry — whether that’s Prime Video or Twitch, the live streaming video platform.
The underside of Amazon’s explosive growth, however, is felt by the very people who generate its wealth: its workers. From the lack of masks and other protective equipment during the pandemic to injury rates twice as high as the industry standard to warehouses catching fire, Amazon workers are constantly put at risk — with fatal consequences all too often.
Conditions in the supply chain are often far worse. Amazon was found to be selling clothing made in dozens of Bangladeshi blacklisted factories after the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster. Amazon refuses to sign the legally binding Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This is a key demand by workers, trade unions, activists, and others.
With global inflation rising — and reaching its highest rate in forty years in North America and Europe — the prices of essential goods, such as energy and food, are soaring. Despite raising the cost of Prime memberships in most markets, the company refuses to increase wages in line with inflation. Its hardline stances against improving workplace conditions, and recognition of unions, remain unchanged. In the UK, it offered workers a ridiculous 35p raise per hour in August — in other words, a massive real-term pay cut. Workers in France and Germany also rejected real-term pay cuts. Amazon made $33.3 billion in profit in 2021, but it won’t pay its workers a fair share.
Amazon also undermines our governments’ capacities to fight the cost-of-living crisis. Amazon avoided US corporate federal income tax of $5.2 Billion in 2021. In Europe, Amazon paid no income tax on €55 billion sales, instead receiving €1 billion in tax credits. Amazon continues to ignore attempts by regulators and abuse its market power. In India, Amazon has dodged Indian law, which stipulates that an e-commerce platform can only connect sellers to buyers and — unlike in the United States — not be active as a seller on the platform itself. Amazon is also accused in America and Europe of engaging in antitrust-law violations and reducing fair competition. Amazon spent many years fighting taxes in Bangladesh.
Amazon continues to fuel climate collapse. Despite its pledge to fully decarbonize its operations by 2040, the corporation’s CO2 emissions rose by 18 percent in 2021. And the number is only so low because — unlike competitors like Target — Amazon is drastically undercounting its carbon footprint: it solely counts its own branded products in its reporting, which make up only 1 percent of its overall sales. Amazon Web Services continues not just to supply fossil fuel companies, but has entered into “strategic collaboration” with some of them. And another chapter was added to Amazon’s history of sponsoring climate denial when, shortly before the US midterm elections, it was revealed that Amazon gave money to at least twenty-five climate-denying candidates.
We cannot rely on goodwill to make Amazon pay. Instead, Amazon workers must work together with their trade unions as well as tax watchdogs and regulators. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
Amazon workers in France, Germany and the United States have been striking for better wages and working conditions over the past few months. They won a partial victory. Amazon in Germany raised wages in September but still below inflation. In the UK, Amazon announced a £500 bonus for warehouse workers.
Regulators and politicians, too, are pushing back on the corporation’s anticompetitive behavior. Amazon had to cut its stakes in India’s largest sellers to stop it from abusing their market power. In the United States, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act — the first major effort by Congress to regulate Big Tech in the internet age — would prevent Amazon from featuring its own brand, Amazon Basics, at the top of a product search above other similar products. In the European Union, the Digital Markets Act, which was approved in the summer of 2022, will make Amazon’s use of third-party data from small and medium enterprises to compete with rival products on its own marketplace illegal.
These are significant victories, but Amazon workers, societies, and the planet deserve more.
That’s why workers and organizers are uniting on November 25 in a campaign to Make Amazon Pay. Amazon will be facing protests and strikes from all over the world, including in the United States, Bangladesh, Germany, South Africa and Bangladesh. They want Amazon to raise wages above inflation, stop union busting, decarbonize its supply chain and pay its fair share of taxes.