Some 401 parliamentarians and public officials – among them Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party; Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former minister of finance; and Ilhan Omar and Rachida Tlaib, two members of the so-called “Squad” in the U.S. House of Representatives – have signed an open letter to Amazon’s chief executive and top shareholder, Jeff Bezos. In it they deplore the rise in Bezos’ net worth along with the company’s “dangerous working conditions,” especially in light of the pandemic, its “monopolistic practices,” its undermining of “democracies and their capacity to respond to collective challenges” and its environmental effects, claiming that Amazon’s “carbon footprint is greater than [that of] two-thirds of the world’s countries.”
The letter forms part of an initiative called “Make Amazon Pay,” which has the support of 48 unions, NGOs and other progressive groups. The letter is hosted on the website of Progressive International.
Speaking with Business Insider, a spokesman for Amazon responded to the criticism from Tlaib by saying, “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 dollars in taxes globally.”
According to Forbes, Amazon will be paying a one-time bonus to frontline employees for the Christmas season. Full-timers will receive $300 and part-timers $150, but warehouse staff might receive up to $3,000. By Forbes’ estimate, the initiative will cost the company about $500 million.
The European Commission has pledged to force Amazon and other American bemoths to pay taxes in the European Union. Amazon is also under scrutiny from an anti-trust perspective in both the U.S. and the EU. In fact, government officials are charging the company with controlling and competing in the market simultaneously. By their account, Amazon gleans information from the performance of its marketplace sellers and then uses it to hone its own marketing and sales.
As for the environment, Amazon reports a carbon footprint of 122.8 grams of CO2 equivalents per dollar of gross merchandise sales (GMS), or a total of 51.17 million metric tons (MMT), for 2019. By way of comparison, Apple, with a slightly higher market capitalization, reports emissions of 25.1 MMT for the same year. Microsoft, with a slightly lower market cap, appears to have emitted about 12 MMT. Google’s parent, Alphabet, is smaller than all of the above by market cap and emitted about 750,000 MMT in 2018. All of these companies have pledged to achieve some form of carbon neutrality by around 2030.
According to an article this month in The Atlantic, Bezos himself pledged $10 billion to his Bezos Earth Fund in February, thereby “eclipsing the total sum spent by American philanthropists on climate change in recent years.”
Much of the criticism seems to be aimed at Bezos himself. He is, of course, the founder and face of Amazon, and has reaped great benefit along with the company from the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to its most recent results, Amazon’s sales rose by 37 percent to $96.1 billion for the third quarter, and last year saw four consecutive quarters of sales growth, averaging 20.5 percent. Over the past year the company’s stock price has risen from about $1,875 to $3,160.
Earlier this month Bezos held about 53 million shares of Amazon stock. This amounts to a stake of about 11 percent, worth some $173 billion. No one else owns anywhere near this number of Amazon shares. The next largest individual shareholders are Andrew Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, with about 0.02 percent, and Jeffrey Blackburn, Amazon’s senior vice president of business development, with about 0.01 percent. According to Yahoo Finance, the top institutional investors are Vanguard Group (32.8 million shares, or 6.53%), BlackRock (27.7 million, 5.51%) and State Street (16.3 million, 3.26%).