When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, he didn’t just open an online store out of a garage in Bellevue, Washington. He created a globe-spanning business ready to squeeze every last drop from workers, sellers, consumers, and the planet. The pandemic offered the company the chance to squeeze much more: it doubled its workforce and tripled its profits.
Amazon’s geographic expansion continues apace. In 2023, Amazon plans to enter at least five more countries: Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Nigeria, and South Africa. Even with some slowed growth in recent months, Amazon is stronger — and more profitable — than it was three years ago.
Amazon is not just the marketplace. It makes and sells its own products through a sprawling global supply chain. And most of its profits flow from its cloud services arm, Amazon Web Services, which now controls a third of the worldwide market. With Whole Foods, Amazon has a foot in the grocery industry. With the recent acquisition of One Medical, the corporation continues to make headway in the health care sector. 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.
In the supply chain, conditions are often much worse. Amazon has been found to sell clothing from dozens of blacklisted Bangladeshi factories that have been deemed too dangerous following the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. The company is still refusing to sign the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a central demand of workers, trade unions, and activists.
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. But even though the company is raising the price of its Prime memberships in many markets, it refuses to raise wages in line with inflation. Its hard-line stances against improving workplace conditions and recognizing unions also 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. In France and Germany, workers also rejected having their pay cut in real terms. 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 $5.2 billion in US corporate federal income taxes in 2021. In Europe, Amazon paid no income tax on €55 billion sales, instead receiving €1 billion in tax credits. At the same time, Amazon is flouting attempts by regulators to rein in the abuse of 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. Similarly, in Europe and the United States, Amazon is accused of practices that have undermined fair competition and violated antitrust law. In Bangladesh, Amazon spent years fighting paying taxes.
Finally, Amazon continues to fuel climate breakdown. 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.
To make Amazon pay, we can clearly not rely on goodwill. Instead, Amazon workers and their trade unions, environmentalists, tax watchdogs, and regulators need to get together and fight back. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
In the past few months, Amazon workers in Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and beyond have turned to strike action to demand better workplace conditions and better pay. And they won a partial victory. In Germany, Amazon raised wages in September, though 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. In India, Amazon was forced to reduce its stakes in the largest sellers on its marketplace to prevent it from abusing its 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.
While these are important victories, Amazon workers, our societies, and our planet deserve more.
That’s why workers and organizers are uniting on November 25 in a campaign to Make Amazon Pay. From the United States to Bangladesh, from Germany to South Africa, Amazon will face coordinated strikes and protests demanding that Amazon raises wages above inflation for all its workers, stops its union busting, decarbonizes its whole supply chain, and pays its fair shares of taxes.