Boycotting Amazon on Black Friday, the e-commerce’s behemoth’s most profitable day of the year, would force the company to “pay” for its anti-democratic practices and growing list of human rights violations, says left-wing Greek economist and politician, Ioannis “Yanis” Varoufakis.
In recent years, Amazon has faced accusations of rights violations in the form of unhygienic warehouses, labour malpractices, anticompetitive practices, aggressive tax evasion practices, big data practices, violation of our privacy and data rights, bedding of climate-killing fossil fuel companies, confirmed breaching of “EU antitrust rules by distorting competition in online retail markets“, Orwellian “monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements“, and ongoing COVID-19 profiteering.
In a campaign video released on the eve of the protest, Varoufakis, the Secretary-General of MeRA25, a left-wing political party in Greece, urges millions of people around the world not to even visit the websites of Amazon, “the pillar of a new techno-feudalism,” on this year’s Black Friday, November 27, 2020. The boycott will strength a growing international coalition of Amazon warehouse workers, tax justice advocates, racial justice activists, data justice campaigners, and environmental rights activists against a corporate predator that’s exploiting tens of thousands of people around the world, while, in some cases, dictating policies of governments.
According to Varoufakis:
Amazon treats its workers as expendable robots. Reducible to their capacity to pick and pack under conditions that crush their souls and bend their bodies. Amazon drives into the ground the small bookshops and businesses that are the fabric of our communities. Amazon is not a mere service provider, nor are its profits the rewards of a service provider. Amazon is a gigantic behavior modification machine. Its data services run the business of government while its top executives dictate policy to politicians. Its algorithms provoke and tease that which people buy, watch, and read
Varoufakis’ call is part of a global Black Friday day of action against Amazon by Amazon workers, trade unionists, racial justice activists, environmentalists, and progressive advocates, that’s taking place on Black Friday, November 27, 2020, under the rallying cry, #MakeAmazonPay.
Organizations co-convening or supporting the #MakeAmazonPay campaign include Progressive International, an organization that “unites, organizes, and mobilizes progressive forces around the world,” Amazon Workers International, Public Services International, International Trade Union Confederation, Greenpeace, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, 350.org, Tax Justice Network, the Athena coalition, Algorithm Watch, Data for Black Lives, Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, and UNI Global, a global union federation representing more than 20 million workers from over 150 countries.
Prominent progressive activists, intellectuals, politicians and other public figures who currently identify with either Progressive International or the #MakeAmazonPay campaign include Varoufakis, Naomi Klein, US Sen. Bernie Sanders, John Cusack, Srećko Horvat, Prof. Cornel West, and Prof. Noam Chomsky.
COVID-19 pandemic profiteering
Both Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, the world’s world’s richest person, have benefitted from the boom in online spending created by the raging COVID-19 global pandemic. As reported by the Guardian, the pandemic has reportedly so far helped Bezos add US$70 billion to his personal wealth.
According to the #MakeAmazonPay website:
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon became a trillion dollar corporation, with CEO Jeff Bezos becoming the first person in history to amass $200 billion in personal wealth. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers risked their lives as essential workers, and faced threats and intimidation if they spoke out for their rights to a fair wage.
According to Progressive International:
Amazon’s size and power place the corporation at the very center of the crises of climate breakdown and economic inequality that grip our planet. The growth of CEO Jeff Bezos’s astronomical wealth — up $100 billion since March, now surpassing that of any other human in history — is directly proportional to Amazon’s human and environmental costs: his corporation mistreats its workers, wrecks the climate, and undermines the public institutions underpinning our democracies along the way
Exploitation of workers
Bezos’ COVID-19 pandemic profiteering contrasts sharply with Amazon’s well-documented mistreatment of most of its 876,000 employees, and ongoing war on the environment.
In April, Amazon “fired two employees who were outspoken critics of its climate policies and who had publicly denounced the conditions at its warehouses as unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic,” reports The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos.
Tim Bray, a former VP with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud-computing platform, quit his US$1 million job in protest at “chickenshit” firing of activist workers protesting inadequate protections against COVID-19 at the company’s warehouses.
In a scathing blog post, Bray wrote:
I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19… Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned. The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right? … Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.
Smalls, a former assistant manager at Amazon’s warehouse on Staten Island in New York, was fired shortly organizing a walkout sparked by concerns related the coronavirus. Letitia James, New York state’s attorney general, labelled Amazon’s firing of Smalls “disgraceful”.
“Amazon does not pay for the damage it inflicts upon workers in unhygienic warehouses,” says Varoufakis in the #MakeAmazonPay Black Friday day of action video. “Amazon, in short, is a clear and present danger to workers communities, to public health, to the planet, to our democracies, and, yes, to the notion the liberal individual that the establishment waxes lyrical about.”
The #MakeAmazonPay coalition’s Common Demands include:
- raising workers’ pay in all Amazon warehouses in line with the increasing wealth of the corporation;
- immediately stopping all forms of spying on workers and organizers;
- ending all custom Amazon Web Services contracts for fossil fuel companies to accelerate oil and gas extraction;
- ending Amazon’s complicity in environmental racism;
- ending partnerships with police forces and immigration authorities that are institutionally racist;
- ceasing anti-competitive business practices that lead to monopolization;
- guaranteeing transparency over the privacy and use of consumers’ data, including Alexa/Echo devices, streaming and cloud services;
- guaranteeing privacy and confidentiality of all Internet of Things applications and software produced by or sold via Amazon, including Alexa/Echo devices, streaming and cloud services; and
- stopping the development, deployment and sale of devices and software that expand mass surveillance practices, such as Amazon Ring and facial recognition/biometrics software such as Rekognition.
Check out the full list HERE.
And, below is the full text of Varoufakis’ call to boycott Amazon on Black Friday:
This is Yanis Varoufakis with a message from the Progressive International and DiEM25.
This Black Friday, Friday, the 27th of November 2020 we’re asking you to refrain from buying anything from Amazon.com.
We’re asking you to not even visit Amazon.com on that day. Just for one day. We are asking you to join our global campaign to make Amazon pay. On this day, by boycotting Amazon you will be adding your strength to an international coalition of workers and activists from the ITUC, UNI Global Union, and Public Services International, and Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, to the Tax Justice Network, and Data for Black Lives.
Amazon is not a mere company. It is not merely a monopolistic mega-firm. It is far more, and far worse, than that. It is the pillar of a new techno-feudalism.
Amazon treats its workers as expendable robots. Reducible to their capacity to pick and pack under conditions that crush their souls and bend their bodies. Amazon drives into the ground the small bookshops and businesses that are the fabric of our communities.
Amazon is not a mere service provider, nor are its profits the rewards of a service provider. Amazon is a gigantic behavior modification machine. Its data services run the business of government while its top executives dictate policy to politicians. Its algorithms provoke and tease that which people buy, watch, and read.
Amazon does not pay for the damage it inflicts upon workers in unhygienic warehouses. For the elimination of small businesses. For the massive damage it inflicts upon the planet, our environment. For the government services that our necessary to repair the damage that Amazon inflicts on our people, on our communities, on our environment.
Amazon, in short, is a clear and present danger to workers communities, to public health, to the planet, to our democracies, and, yes, to the notion the liberal individual that the establishment waxes lyrical about.
What can you do to make Amazon pay? Are we not too small to matter? No, we’re not.
Remember: no despot, oligarch, or entrepreneur has the power to rule over the millions, the billions of us without our consent. The truth about despotic power does not lie in the despot’s weapons, bank accounts, or data servers. It lies in the minds of those the despot controls. It lies in our inaction.
The beauty and the power of our Black Friday Day of Action lies in the fact that it requires only a tiny sacrifice from you: Just don’t visit Amazon.com for one day. That’s all! But this tiny activism, when carried out by millions, or billions, out there, will translate into a huge blow for Amazon. Even if we cause a small dent in Amazon’s revenues on that one day, on Black Friday.
You see, Jeff Bezos, a very smart man, will take note. He will get it. Amazon’s days of impunity are over. Together, this Black Friday, we can make a gigantic difference with a tiny act of solidarity to workers, communities, and the planet.
This Black Friday let’s make Amazon pay. Okay? Carpe DiEM.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, activist, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. Obert is the founder and editor of The Zimbabwean Progressive and The Canadian Progressive, both of which are independent political blogs dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented journalism situated right at the intersection of politics, technology and human rights. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad