Amazon: 400 global politicians demand Jeff Bezos pay more tax, increase wages, and protect the environment

Exclusive: Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have signed their names to the letter

Adam Smith
Thursday 03 December 2020 18:37 GMT
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has been urged to pay the company’s workers better and protect the environment
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has been urged to pay the company’s workers better and protect the environment (Getty Images)

More than 400 legislators from 34 countries, spanning all six continents, have signed a letter demanding that Amazon take action to change the company’s policies to better protect workers and the environment.

The message, which is addressed to chief executive Jeff Bezos, says that the world knows that Amazon can afford to pay its workers, its taxes and its environmental costs, but that the company has dodged and dismissed its debts to workers, societies and the planet.

The signatories point towards the 25 “Common Demands” that the group say Amazon should implement to improve. These include raising workers’ pay in all Amazon warehouses in line with the increasing wealth of the corporation, including hazard pay; committing to zero emissions by 2030; and guaranteeing transparency over the privacy and use of consumers’ data.

The letter was signed by a number of MPs in the UK – including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Nadia Whittome, Zarah Sultana – as well as Sein Fein MPs.

US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Turkey's HDP spokesperson Ebru Günay, leader of France's France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of Greek party MeRA25 Yanis Varoufakis, and European Parliament vice president Heidi Hautala also added their names.

The letter points out that Mr Bezos’ wealth increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, during which millions of people lost their jobs.

At the same time, Amazon has been criticised for its actions against its staff, which the letter claimed worked in dangerous conditions, had received little or no increase in pay and faced retaliation for efforts to defend themselves and organise their colleagues.

A recent report from Amnesty International claimed the shopping giant had used surveillance technologies to track its workers and had not taken enough steps to protect workers.

Amazon caused controversy over its treatment of Christian Smalls, who said he was fired for raising concerns about staff falling sick yet was ignored.

In May, Amazon vice president Tim Bray resigned in response to the company sacking Covid-19 whistleblowers and protesters.

Amazon has also reportedly been “secretly" monitoring and analysing Amazon Flex drivers’ private Facebook groups from September 2020, as well as heatmaps in Whole Food stores – which is owned by Amazon – to track which stores might unionise.

Recently, Amazon’s Global Security Operations Centre was also found to be receiving updates on labour-organising activities at warehouses. These details include the exact date, time and location of a report, and the source who reported the action, and the number of participants at an event.

"Like any other responsible business, we maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe," Amazon said in response.

The letter also claimed that Amazon’s carbon footprint was greater than two-thirds of the world’s countries. The shopping giant’s carbon footprint did increase by 15 per cent last year, despite the company’s apparent efforts to alleviate its impact.

Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions were about 85 per cent of the emissions of Switzerland or Denmark, according to Gregg Marland, a professor at the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics at Appalachian State University.

"[Mr Bezos’] plan for emissions reduction is both insufficient to stay within the environmental boundaries of our planet and difficult to trust given Amazon’s record of broken promises on sustainability and financial contributions to climate change denial,” the letter states.

“Your monopolistic practices have squeezed small businesses, your web services have disrespected data rights, and you have contributed a pittance in return.” The letter also highlights the fact that Amazon paid no US federal taxes in 2018 and 2019.

“Through your global tax dodging, you damage the public provision of health, education, housing, social security and infrastructure.”

The letter comes as a part of the #MakeAmazonPay campaign, which is comprised of a number of organisations including Progressive International, UNI Global Union, Amazon Workers International, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

Last week, Amazon workers across 15 countries carried out strikes and protests on Black Friday, calling for increased pay and improved working conditions.

“Workers, progressive electeds, anti-monopolists, small businesses and activists are coming together to show Amazon that social dialogue and collective bargaining are not threats but vital tools that modern societies use to protect workers’ health, save people's lives and affirm the dignity of work,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union.

“Progressive politicians everywhere should see these actions and want to help,” said the Labour MP John McDonnell. “CEO Jeff Bezos could pay every Amazon worker in the world a £75,000 pandemic bonus and still be as rich as he was at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Simply put, Amazon can afford to do right by its workers, their communities and our planet – and its politicians’ job to make it do it. So I'm proud to work in parliament to make this movement's demands a reality, including the GMB union's call for a parliamentary inquiry into Amazon.”

Amazon said in a statement: “While as a large company we welcome scrutiny from policymakers, the matters raised in this letter stem from a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who appear to be using Amazon’s profile to further their individual causes. 

"Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions of pounds in taxes globally. We look forward to continued dialogue with interested parties on these topics."

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