Social Justice

Amazon’s Men in Black

Not so long ago, Amazon was looking for new recruits with experience in intelligence work whose job description, among other things, included “to track risks arising from trade unions.”
It would seem logical to assume that there is a simple solution that does not require hiring 'men in black'. The key to improving the company’s image lies in improving working conditions. However, Amazon’s management applies a different logic which, as the company's financial figures show, is indeed profitable.
It would seem logical to assume that there is a simple solution that does not require hiring 'men in black'. The key to improving the company’s image lies in improving working conditions. However, Amazon’s management applies a different logic which, as the company's financial figures show, is indeed profitable.

The biggest online store in the world is consistently reinforcing its image as the worst employer ever. Recently, a journalist from Vice revealed two job adverts published by the company. Amazon was looking for people with experience in intelligence work, to identify risks stemming from employees’ unionizing efforts and to check on those funding actions against the company, both within and without.

After Vice published the piece covering the topic, Amazon removed the ads, but they can still be read in an online archive. The company was looking for an "Intelligence Analyst” and "Senior Intelligence Analyst”, who were to join the Security and Intelligence department. Big companies tend to have such units, responsible for ensuring the security of production and logistics, conducting economic espionage and its countermeasures against outside intelligence departments. Amazon’s job adverts would not have been in any way peculiar, were it not for their emphasis on “tracking risks arising from trade unions”. Leaving aside the unlawfulness of tracking and neutralizing activities by workers’ organizations, the adverts – once again – demonstrate the kind of philosophy adopted by the company vis-à-vis its employees.

Working conditions in Amazon distribution centres have been described on many occasions in both the international and Polish press. Eyewitness accounts by employees, and the report by the Polish National Labour Inspectorate, indicate that Amazon’s blue-collar workers are forced to perform exceedingly hard jobs, while their efficiency is meticulously monitored. In Poland, the company outsources workers through employment agencies, which means people who work there do so on short-term contracts, usually renewable on a monthly basis, and so continuously suffer from job precarity.

Amazon workers all around the globe are complaining about the same treatment. Their situation became more acute with the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought about a steep increase in orders while the company’s infrastructure proved inadequate to deal with this sudden surge. Virus outbreaks were detected in the Amazon distribution centres because – according to the workers themselves – the company used inadequate health precautions. In New York, Chris Smalls started a protest, demanding that appropriate safety measures be introduced in distribution centres. As a response, Amazon sacked Smalls and orchestrated an online hate campaign against him. The e-commerce market giant has also been notorious for blocking unionizing efforts among its workers.

Amazon has also been quick to react to media and activist involvement in protecting the rights of the company’s workers. Anna Rozwadowska, a journalist working for a major Polish daily “Gazeta Wyborcza”, who has published a series of articles on Amazon activities in Poland, received a letter from the company accusing her of authoring texts that are “biased” and “lack integrity”. The Amazon representative in Poland threatened her with court action if she did not correct them. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights described the letter as an attempt to intimidate the journalist.

The two positions in Amazon's intelligence department that the job adverts were trying to fill were also tasked with monitoring journalists, activists and outside activities seeking to tarnish the company's image. An image, one should add, that has been consistently bad. It would seem logical to assume that there is a simple solution that does not require hiring 'men in black'. The key to improving the company’s image lies in improving working conditions. However, Amazon’s management applies a different logic which, as the company's financial figures show, is indeed profitable.

This is because Amazon is the biggest online store in the world. In 2019, the company was deemed to be the most valuable brand globally, dethroning Google. Jeff Bezos, the founder and owner of the majority share of the company has been awarded the title of the wealthiest man in the world (according to the ranking by Bloomberg).

As such, he surpassed Bill Gates and became the first person to have amassed the wealth worth over 200 billion dollars. Recently, media informed that MacKenzie Scott, Bezos’ ex-wife, became the richest woman in the world, beating Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the heir to the L’Oréal cosmetics empire (even though she did keep the top rank for only one day). The main asset in Scott’s (who gave up her former husband’s name) fortune is a package of Amazon shares she received as part of the divorce deal.

Following a surge in employment at Amazon during and because of the coronavirus pandemic, around one million people globally now work for the company.

Paulina Siegień is a journalist and reporter working from Trójmiasto, Podlasie and Kaliningrad. She writes about Russia and other issues that she thinks are important, and regularly collaborates with New Eastern Europe. She is a graduate of the Eastern Europe Study Centre at the Warsaw University and Russian Philology Department at the Gdańsk University.

Photo: RadioKirk, Wikimedia

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Author
Paulina Siegień
Date
07.10.2020

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