Amazon recently became the second company in the world (following Apple) to reach the $1 trillion mark. This is, of course, USD; the conversion to AUD is a frighteningly high number. Suffice to say they have done quite well for themselves. But if Amazon’s worth has peaked $1 trillion, and Bezos alone is worth over $160 billion, why are so many of the company’s workers living in poverty?
I saw a comment online not long after this announcement was made that said if the wealth of Amazon was distributed equally among its workers, regardless of their role, all 550,000+ of them would be millionaires. Whether you think that would be an absurd prospect, believe in the motto that those who work the factories also own them, or anything in between, we can at least agree that there is a minimum expectancy that your job will provide a liveable wage or salary. On top of that, the conditions in which you work should also be at an adequate standard. On both counts, Amazon fails dismally.
As a lover of books, Amazon and its subsidiaries Book Depository and AbeBooks were always my go-to sites to buy items cheaply. I had doubts about the company’s actions, but at the time my vague knowledge hadn’t turned me off using their services. It wasn’t until January this year that I officially opted to boycott their website and refuse to order anything from them. The news that changed my stance was the introduction of the patented wristbands Amazon made their factory workers wear. These devices can track the location of employees and their hand movements, vibrating if productivity is not sufficient or to lead them to the correct items. They were automating their human workers as much as possible, alongside real robots, to increase wild productivity benchmarks.
Numerous investigations have been carried out in relation to the conditions Amazon’s workers deal with on a daily basis. They don’t only affect the warehouse workers, but other staff like delivery drivers as well, trying to match similarly impossible deadlines and targets. Workers have peed in bottles and been punished for taking days off due to illness. As if the stress and unfair treatment wasn’t bad enough, it’s under fire for its low hourly pay for the warehouse workers, which is about $12.63USD. Bernie Sanders has been a major critic of Amazon’s wages and working conditions, constantly calling out the now trillion dollar company for the number of its workers on food stamps and other government assistance programs – programs that the Trump Administration are intent on cutting while simultaneously cutting taxes over and over for large corporations. One has to wonder if both the Democrats and the Republicans are using the timing of the Kavanaugh accusations for their own separate purposes, as the media seems relatively quiet about the new tax bill that passed this week.
Amazon is certainly not the only company worthy of our distaste – Nike’s campaign with Kaepernick, for example, was bittersweet. Championing against oppression is okay, so long as you don’t question where your expensive shoes or next-day delivery products are made or packaged. It is the harsh reality that many of the comforts that we take for granted are built on the back of exploitative labour, usually in third world countries but also (to a much lesser extent) in the West.
I have certainly missed the cheap prices Amazon has to offer, but I am more than happy to pay a little extra for my books and other merchandise from a business that can treat their workers right – and preferably Australian businesses too. I’ll include a list of sites and stores I use to buy books below. Losing my patronage will have had little effect on the sales and profit of Amazon as a whole, but enough people join a boycott of the company, and if the workers themselves unionise and demand better wages and working conditions, then things will slowly begin to change. The capitalist system can’t run without workers and consumers; if we challenge they will listen, and if not, the workers should strike.
My Alternatives to Amazon:
- Lifeline Bookfest charity events