Last week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Vice President Tim Bray left his cushy million-dollar job to protest the way the company treats its critics. He said he “snapped” when the company fired two user experience designers who criticized the company’s climate stance and treatment of warehouse workers.
Amazon had previously fired warehouse worker Chris Smalls who organized a strike to demand better protection during the pandemic. Amazon claims that it fired Smalls for violating social distancing and quarantine rules. Smalls wrote an op-ed in The Guardian where he described how warehouse JKF8 was poorly stocked with cleaning supplies – rubber gloves (instead of latex), no masks, and scarce hand sanitizer.
He reported that Amazon forced many workers to clock in overtime due to increased demand for products. Many of his coworkers showed symptoms, but Smalls claims management refused to do anything about it.
Just yesterday, an employee at the same warehouse died from coronavirus.
Unfortunately, these stories are nothing new.
A warehouse employee named Rita Cummings similarly told The Guardian about her miserable work experience earlier this year. She mentioned that an algorithm judges workers and that failing to keep up with demand can get them fired. Some packers need to pack 700 items an hour – a rate that only seems realistic to robots.
Cummings also reported several safety hazards. In one instance, a pin in a conveyor belt tore off her work glove and almost took her hand with it. In other cases, large and improperly packed boxes burst open and injured workers.
One report indicated that warehouse workers in the UK often peed in bottles since they couldn’t afford to take bathroom breaks. Employees feared that they’d miss their targets and get reprimanded.
A separate report found that:
74% of workers avoid going to the bathroom out of fear for missing their targets and getting a warning point. (Three warning points means you’ll get fired.)
55% of workers suffered from depression after joining the company.
81% of employees wouldn’t work for Amazon again if given a chance.
55% of workers said they unfairly received warning points.
Big Tech Earns Big Bucks, Even When They Misbehave
As Amazon warehouse workers suffer, Jeff Bezos’s net worth grows. The richest man in the world, Bezos, earns almost $2,500 a second. (Fun fact: That’s a little more than a single share of Amazon.) He retained that title even after giving 25% of his stocks to his ex-wife upon divorce.
Sadly, many of us depend on Amazon for much of our daily lives. Approximately 156 million people use Amazon Prime worldwide, myself included. Every company I’ve ever worked for had an Amazon Prime account that we’d use to get snacks, supplies, and other goods.
Plus, Amazon offers a streaming service, food delivery, cloud storage, an e-reader, and retail stores. Amazon also owns famous brands like Whole Foods, Twitch, IMDB, Audible, and Zappos.
But Amazon isn’t the only big tech company that has this problem.
Google has been the center of multiple scandals over the years, including collecting private data, illegally acquiring medical records, contributing to Chinese censorship, and almost accidentally starting a war.
There are many search engine alternatives – Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Ask, Baidu, Qwant – but none of them hold a candle to the tech behemoth.
But it doesn’t matter. Google and YouTube are the two most visited sites in the world. Even without its search engine capabilities, millions of people use products like Google Maps, Chrome, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail every day. (Myself included, of course.)
Neither Google or Amazon pay taxes.
Too Big to Fail?
Some of these big tech companies seem like they’re too big to fail. With an endless amount of money and resources, behemoths like Amazon and Google can easily stay afloat no matter what happens to them. No amount of bad publicity or legal fees can bring them to their knees.
It’s the same reason that popular celebrities never get “canceled” because they’ll always have fans. In the same way, Google and Amazon will always have enough customers to keep them going. The same can’t be said for other companies.
For example, Gawker faced a $140 million fine after leaking Hulk Hogan’s sex tape a few years ago. The media company was unable to pay such an amount, so they filed for bankruptcy.
In comparison, Google paid $170 million for violating children’s privacy laws. YouTube alone brought in $13 billion in revenue the same year.
Facebook paid a record-breaking $5 billion to the FTC in 2019. That might seem like a lot, but the social media company made $30 billion in revenue during the first half of 2019.
There are only a few high-profile companies that failed due to scandals. Think Enron, Theranos, or Lehman Brothers. Others managed to survive, despite doing things that significantly impact the lives of its employees or customers. Think of Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, BP, Bayer, Wynn Resorts, and Johnson & Johnson. These companies all suffered setbacks, but are still thriving today.
To be clear, I don’t think that big tech companies necessarily need to be dissolved. Every company can do better, and most of them have. But these companies have seemingly limitless power which they use to exploit workers and customers for a profit.
We, the everyday consumers, are the ones giving them power. We’re lining their pockets every time we use one of their services – and these services are everywhere. It’s nearly impossible not to see their influences when you use the internet.
With billions of dollars in revenue, we could only hope that these companies will use their money more responsibly.