Oh so handy, oh so ethically awry - I sold my soul to Amazon long ago

'Amazon Prime proudly sponsors Jeremy Clarkson’s lovely big Chipping Norton kitchen extension with heated floor tiles' is definitely not the tagline any respectable liberal wants

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The Independent Online

It will be news to precisely zero loyal subscribers to Amazon Prime that their retail habit is not 100 per cent ethical – and this was before recent reports of Amazon Fulfilment Site workers weeping at their desks while they stacked up profits in order to fund Jeremy Clarkson’s latest diesel-centred, dick-swinging TV jaunt.

Indeed, when I grabbed my phone at 10.14pm last night to “one click” order a Kong Extreme Dog Chew Toy because my Labrador looked momentarily under-stimulated, I tried not to ponder too deeply the working conditions in which the toy would make its path from the Stafford fulfilment hub to my spoilt dog’s gob. Still, I knew for certain that the toy would turn up – reliably, efficiently and curiously excitingly – at some point today. Just like the Armani foundation, the obscure, piddly little fridge lightbulb and the Lego Cherry Picker I asked for last week.

At one point in time, I’d have needed a paid assistant to gather and fetch the various tedious things which make Grace Dent Inc into the dynamic creative powerhouse it is. My very own, put-upon PA like Alan Partridge’s Lynn Benfield, if you will. You see these assistants in the green rooms at all of the book festivals, scampering around behind the most revered male dinosaurs to ensure that they have Bic pens, odour eaters and Fox’s glacier mints. Instead, the modern woman has an Amazon Prime account, a well-prodded Amazon App, a things-to-do list and a variety of secret hidey-holes for the midnight courier to leave spare Macbook chargers, printer ink, tights, ballet pumps and Hoover bags. How can I give it up?

Amazon Prime is a Feminist Issue is a novel I should probably write, then sell for 1p per copy via Amazon Whisper because, like most 21st-century feminist breakthroughs I benefit from, it involves simply handing the work over to some other poor schmuck. It should be noted that Amazon’s boss, Jeff Bezos, has responded strongly to reports that it is his company’s intention “to create a souless dystopian workplace where no fun is had and laughter heard”, or that it is a workspace where employees frequently cry. I’m not sure I believe him about the crying bit, as I have yet to work anywhere functioning at a whip-fast, ostensibly “efficient” level where tears did not occur.

During the 1990s, I cried sporadically in the loos at WH Smith’s when managers would scream at us about tills being 12p down on a £3,000 take. I wept on the fire escape in the Noughties when my documentary voiceover was changed to something “broader”, and I was told that someone more stupid and pretty could easily be hired to say it. I snivel occasionally nowadays, typically after the 70th day in a row that I’m informed by internet strangers that I’m a fat, illiterate cretin. But, crucially, I have also been informed many, many times that in the modern, superfast broadband age, being made to cry at work is something Woman 3.0 should just get on with. Freedom of speech n’all that. If Bezos is correct and no one is crying at Amazon then, hurrah, he has created a corporate Utopia because, in my experience, behind every profit-focused, forward-reaching, envelope-pushing, blue-sky thinking company, the workers are weeping, vomiting and dealing with nervous diarrhoea.

As for the rejected accusations that Amazon’s offices are soulless and dystopian, well, I’ve seen images of corporate headquarters where a glee club, yoga and flinging an inflatable sheep around are semi-compulsory. I’m not entirely certain which office atmosphere is more disturbing. Perhaps, like me, you like the sound of silence. That said, 11 miles per day – as Amazon warehouse workers are said to walk – seems a very long way and nearly impossible if you’re old, pregnant or have blisters from the last 10 shifts.

It is these long, dark nights of warehouse harvesting that I try not to think about when the letterbox clatters and my heart flutters. How lonely is it in those vast tunnels of books, dog bowls and bits and bobs? Are you allowed to stop and talk if you chance upon a friend in Section 461? Why, in my mind’s eye, does working in the Amazon Fulfilment Centre feel like being in Blade Runner? Maybe because if we want everything our hearts desire – now, if not sooner – how can the distribution centre be anything else? It is safe to say, however – despite Mr Bezos’s rebukes – that in this country, Amazon has for a long time sailed close to the wind with regards to liberal acceptability. Tax-wise, employment rights-wise and now, worse than all of this in the eyes of the chattering classes, Jeremy Clarkson-wise.

“Amazon Prime proudly sponsors Jeremy Clarkson’s lovely big Chipping Norton kitchen extension with heated floor tiles” is definitely not the tagline any respectable liberal wants to think about. Especially not at 11pm on a Sunday night when they’re using Amazon Prime to order child’s size-three school uniform plimsolls.

Oh, so handy, but oh so ethically awry. Like private healthcare, cheap Eastern European cleaners and workplace nepotism, Amazon Prime is fast becoming something that it is important to signify one is against, while still propping it up. In the future, I will be happy to pay an extra fee so that all parcels are delivered in brown paper by a courier driver bribed to look chipper and carefree as he or she works. Perhaps, for an extra £2, the driver could saunter theatrically the final five metres to my front door, patting the heads of neighbourhood stray cats and engaging old folk in chat about the weather. There is no shame in crying at work, but for the money I’ll be paying, they can be professional and do it in the van.

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