Today the twitterati are all abuzz on about the NYTimes article about the Amazon workplace. I’ve been reading how folks are now facing a moral dilemma about supporting Amazon with their prime memberships. I read all this and I wonder why this outrage is present given what we’ve known about Amazon workplace ethics since, well, at least 2011. A cursory Googling uncovers the following:
- Business Insider, Sep 20, 2011: “Amazon Forced Warehouse Employees To Work In Suffocating 110 Degree Heat”
- Mother Jones, March/April, 2012: “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave”
- USA Today, December 20, 2013: “Temporary worker dies at Amazon facility”
- The Verge, March 26, 2013: “Amazon makes even temporary warehouse workers sign 18-month non-competes”
- BBC News, Nov 26, 2013: “Amazon workers face ‘increased risk of mental illness'”
- USA Today, February 12, 2014: “Family: Stricken Amazon worker unnoticed for 8 hours”
- The Motley Fool, Nov 23, 2014: “To Win the Holidays, Amazon.com Pushes Employees to the Limit”
There were some rumblings here and there after this information surfaced about the conditions of the warehouse workers at Amazon, but nothing like the groundswell that caused many of my educated liberal friends to leave WalMart (rather vociferously, I might add) following exposés about its treatment of workers. Yet, today Twitter is lighting up with links to the NYTimes article, and Jeff Bezos’s swift PR move in its wake. And we have a USA editorial piece where the writer is now having a pang of conscience about his Amazon Prime membership.
I can’t help but feel that myself, and my contemporaries, are displaying a special kind of hypocrisy in our outrage. We cannot imagine that the dystopia of the mechanized workplace could possibly extend to the world of the white collar tech worker. But what in the world would make us think that a company that treats its warehouse workers like disposable commodities would not extend this treatment to its office workers as well? Is the outrage today based more in our bruised, narcissistic projections rather than any true empathy or desire to make the world a better place for all workers? I mean, as tech professionals, we DESERVE better.
If any of us had a conscience, including myself, we would have cancelled our Amazon prime membership somewhere in 2012, after the Mother Jones piece, or even in 2014, after it surfaced that Amazon contracted with Woody Allen. No, it takes a full-blown NY Times article about the educated, white color tech workers to gin up our sympathy, and even then, some of us will sit back and tell ourselves that we are morally superior for eschewing Black Friday in favor of Cyber Monday.
Amazon is simply WalMart in an internet package: A large logistics organization that values volume and speed above all. Every time we press a “Click to Order” button on Amazon, we are no better than those folks pulling into the WalMart parking lot when they can afford to shop somewhere more fair to its workers. Online retailing sanitizes that experience for us.
The internet at its best is a place to connect us to what is real and true about people and places we could not discover otherwise. It is a place to see our own humanity in others, and learn to do better. I fear that, in a case like truly behemoth online retailing, it has served only to distance us from that very humanity it can help us to claim.
It may indeed be time for us to examine our conscience about how we “do” the holidays cyber-wise. As those months approach, and I see my Amazon Prime membership come up for renewal in November, will I, and my contemporaries, have the courage not to click that button once more?