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Amazon warehouses have been the site of worker protests as the company's role to meet consumer demands during the pandemic has risen Photo: AFP/File

Amazon hit from all sides as crisis highlights growing power


As Amazon becomes an increasingly important lifeline in the pandemic crisis, it is being hit with a wave of criticism from activists, politicians and others who question the tech giant's growing influence.

Amazon has become the most scrutinized company during the health emergency.

It has boosted its global workforce to nearly one million and dealt with protests over warehouse safety and reported deaths of several employees.

But Amazon has also pledged to spend at least $4 billion in the current quarter -- its entire expected operating profit -- on coronavirus mitigation efforts, including relief contributions and funding research.

Amazon's AWS cloud computing unit, which powers big portions of the internet, is also a key element during the crisis with more people and companies working online.

Amazon's market value has hovered near record levels around $1.2 trillion as it reported rising revenues and lower profits in the past quarter.

"Its sheer size justifies the scrutiny," said Dania Rajendra of the activist group Athena, a coalition which is focused specifically on Amazon's corporate activity and treatment of workers.

Athena activists fret that Amazon, which also controls one of the major streaming television services, infiltrates so many aspects of people's lives.

Rankling many activists, the rise in Amazon's shares has boosted the wealth of founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos to over $140 billion even as the global economy has been battered by the virus outbreak.

Amazon has faced employee walkouts at several facilities over safety and hazard pay and has been accused of firing people for speaking out against the company.

"It's a minority going on strike but the sentiment represents thousand if not hundreds of thousands," said Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation.

While Amazon has boosted base pay to $15 an hour, above the minimum wage required, and added bonuses during the pandemic, activists say it's insufficient, especially in high-cost states like California.

"This company can afford to make these jobs middle class jobs, good jobs," Smith said.

The tensions have spilled over into the U.S. capital Washington and elsewhere. U.S. lawmakers leading antitrust investigations asked Bezos to respond to reports that the company improperly used data from third-party sellers to launch its own products, which the company has denied.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James called Amazon "disgraceful" for firing a warehouse employee who led a worker protest over safety. Amazon said the employee refused to quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

In a statement to AFP, Amazon defended its actions on workplace safety, social distancing and noted that it is implementing its own employee testing program.

The company also disputed claims it was stifling employee speech.

Spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski said the employees in question were dismissed "not for talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies."

Levandowski added that Amazon already provides what many unions have been seeking, including a high base wage, health benefits and career opportunities.

"She said the company seeks "a great employment experience" along with offering "a world-class customer experience (while) respecting rights to choose a union."

Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said Amazon is getting heightened scrutiny because of its growing global influence and because of the wast wealth of Bezos.

Moorhead said Amazon also brought on some of its woes with its highly public search for a second headquarters which highlighted tax breaks for the tech giant.

But Moorhead said Amazon is "not profiting" from the coronavirus crisis, and should be credited for some 150 measures taken including the pooling of high-performance computing for researchers.

"If you think about the alternative of shutting down Amazon, so many people wouldn't get the supplies that they need. You'd have a tremendous number of people unemployed," he said.

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Too big to be controlled. That is what Amazon is right now. They have many small and medium sized companies in a stranglehold, politicians and governments in their pockets, and the biggest consumer base of all companies. How do you tackle something like that?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I ordered 2 shipments of masks a month ago. I just received 20 masks from China yesterday and the other order of 50 disappeared and Amazon can't figure out what happened. Lousy management.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Since Covid-19 had to use Amazon more than ever, even food items like flour, yeast, English tea. All items that have disappeared from our super.

Art supplies since I can't travel into town while I recover from my op.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

When was the last time a Republican administration brought an anti-monopoly suit against a US company? If they are concerned for workers' rights, why don't they raise the minimum wage, provide healthcare and unemployment benefits, sick leave, and why do they oppose all efforts at unionization?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I just received 20 masks from China yesterday and the other order of 50 disappeared and Amazon can't figure out what happened. Lousy management.

nothing to do with Amazon and everything to do with shipping, nearly all international mail to and from Japan is suspended due to the fact that 70% of the worlds international flights are grounded. Only private carriers like DHL FedeX UPS etc are still flying at full capacity but theyre much more expensive than the post office. Ive had a number of shipment from China canceled for this exact reason

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Amazon a company that has concentrated solely on online sales with very few brick and mortar store, then comes a pandemic forcing people to stay home so who do you think they're going to buy from!?

Instead we get conspiracy theories like Bezo with the help from Gates develeopled covid19 to release on the world so they can become richer

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Where would everyone be getting their stuff had it not been for Amazon? Whiners.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

the rise in Amazon's shares has boosted the wealth of founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos to over $140 billion

Thats the same as the GDP of Kuwait. Quite an obscene amount, but I suppose he sort of deserves it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

No need for conspiracy theories when Amazon and Bezos regularly do things like this.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Amazon exploits its workers and its vendors. It also negotiates special deals with the government and even electric companies that shift costs to its other customers. Utilizing the "power of the web" it slips and sneaks its messages into places uninvited. These all have been a big factor in thousands of retailers being forced to close and in the destruction of small businesses across America. The article below delves into whether there is anyone or anything that Amazon doesn't exploit?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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