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Boycotting Amazon (thenextweb.com)
87 points by phelm on April 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

"The reporter, Alan Selby, reportedly saw some staff members “asleep on their feet, exhausted from toiling for up to 55 hours a week.” Toilet breaks were timed, and workers were admonished by supervisors for stopping to catch their breath.

Conditions are so dire, a recent poll of 100 Amazon warehouse workers from labor advocacy group Organise showed that more than half suffer from depression, and eight percent had contemplated suicide."

While I acknowledge it's not a totally fair comparison, I find it interesting that you could replace "55" with "90+" and "Amazon blue collar workers" with "Lower level financiers and consultants on Wall Street" and get probably the same statistics. Maybe even true for some spaces in tech/entrepreneurship.

Is this an Amazon problem, or a modern world problem?

>While I acknowledge it's not a totally fair comparison, I find it interesting that you could replace "55" with "90+" and "Amazon blue collar workers" with "Lower level financiers and consultants on Wall Street" and get probably the same statistics. Maybe even true for some spaces in tech/entrepreneurship.

I believe the difference is, the wall street guys are in it voluntarily (they could probably take up a lower paying white collar job and still survive), and have a massive reward to look forward to after spending a few years there. While the warehouse workers are picking between unemployment\hunger and working in Amazon warehouses.

I'd like to see some statistics comparing Amazon to other retail jobs. Low-skilled retail jobs are often physically exhausting and not fulfilling. Many amazon workers might feel depressed, but would they feel better if they worked at Walmart instead?

I can't comment on Walmart specifically, but from my experience working in a warehouse for a couple months it seems that Amazon is totalitarian in a way your average crappy low-skill job isn't.

it's true of many doctors as well. the difference is both doctors and bankers do it for a few years at the beginning of their careers, and in exchange are promised a path to a real reward -- they get promoted, and their pay increases in a job where they can work more reasonable hours.

these Amazon warehouse jobs don't lead to being a millionaire. they don't even lead to a decent career. i doubt you could even get promoted to Amazon low-level management out of one of these jobs. it is pure exploitation.

Fair response, appreciate your thoughtfulness. Your point about lack of advancement is compelling.

Doctors, financiers, etc prove that people are willing to go through life phases that tear them down mentally and physically (could easily argue that for them it can be worse than "peeing in a bottle"), but you're right, they'll all justify it saying "it won't be like this 5 years from now".

I'm curious as to how Amazon would respond to a question like, "what opportunities for advancement do your lower level workers have?"

I know they offer advancement programs like this one: https://www.aboutamazon.com/working-at-amazon/career-choice

Where they pay for your tuition.

Are the lower level financiers and consultants on Wall Street working for roughly 1.8x Amazon warehouse pay?

It's a "paid by the hour" problem.

If, as a company, you pay someone by the hour to complete a task, it's in your best interests to employ only people that do the most work per hour, and then to treat them in a way which gets more work done (to an acceptable quality) per hour.

If instead workers were paid for getting the work done to an acceptable quality, then the workers could decide for themselves what quality of life vs income they wanted.

Salaried work with performance based bonuses are somewhere in between, and perhaps strike a good balance.

You probably should also consider that below some productivity it's probably not worth hiring anyone, even if they're willing to be paid very little.

You've got to be kidding me. THATS what you take out of it? Are wall street bankers being forced to pee in bottles to avoid getting fired?

Both are also self medicating up or down.

Two high pressure jobs. One voluntary, one not so much.


> slavery

Hyperbole much? Note that the article is talking about the UK, a country with very extensive (and expensive) social benefits system - so if these workers didn't want to work, they could simply choose not to, and still survive just fine. That's in no way comparable to slavery.

You can't just choose not to work in the UK. If you resign from a job without good reason, you can have benefits stopped for 6 months. You probably can't survive for 6 months without food. In practice you might be able to get reduced some form of benefits but I don't think it's guaranteed. The term "slavery" might be hyperbole (you are paid, after all) but you might not have much choice about working.

The article implies it's easy to get fired, so no need to resign...

You can/will get benefits sanctioned if you get sacked for misconduct so this is also a risky move. I'm not sure about what happens if you get dismissed for poor performance but I doubt it's pretty.

This isn't just an Amazon problem. I've got a friend who worked at Wal-mart for a while. They give points against you for taking sick days no matter how bad it is. One time she got sent home for having some poison ivy on her arms and was still punished for it. Workers who have high points, but not so many to get fired get their schedules screwed with until they quit.

I mean if you are in the top 90th percentile nationally for taking sick days, then working you into the schedule would probably be a nightmare for managers. By reducing your hours, they are reducing the scheduling work that managers need to do. Also, It's likely expected that every employee has some points, but taking way more than everyone else is what this type of system is likely designed to catch.

It's not just reducing hours. For example you might start getting rotated around different shifts. They'll make your schedule as irregular as possible to encourage you to accrue points or quit. My friend saw this happen to several coworkers in her two years there. Towards the end her direct manager even asked her why she hadn't quit yet.

Well I guess anytime the Internet has a problem these days, we are either going to delete the problem or boycott it into oblivion. If you look deeply into any giant Corp or business serving millions of people you’re going to find faults and deficiencies like this every time. Follow the production Chain of Apple, Google, Tesla etc etc you’re going to find someone at the deep end bearing the entire cost of their success.

So what happens now ? Assuming everyone boycotted Amazon and the unlikely event occurred and it shut down. What next? Tens of thousands of those works go home to what? Does the editor then start another campaign to employ all the people laid off? Think they’d be working there if they had a lot more options?

How about trying to fix the problem or at least fix as much as humanly possible? How about putting pressure on your reps to draw up some regulations? How about the government? Isn’t that what they’re there for? Do we have to resort to Social justice for everything now ? Because it obviously doesn’t work with these corporations. See Equifax, See Facebook ?

> How about putting pressure on your reps to draw up some regulations?

I think the idea is to convince the company directly rather than relying on politicians.

> Because it obviously doesn’t work with these corporations.

There are some pretty glaring examples where it has worked. Nike sweatshops probably being the most visible. Boycotts and lawsuits hit the bottom line, which is what they ultimately care about.

> I think the idea is to convince the company directly rather than relying on politicians.

Relying on politicians is hard in the short term, but regulatory policy fixes the problem more or less permanently in an accountable, democratic, and globally applicable (in a national context) way. If we as a society believe what Amazon is doing is fundamentally wrong, why not prohibit legally rather than rely on an ad-hoc solution that will probably be circumvented once attention fades away?

Did Nike stop employing child labor for real? I thought people just stopped talking about it.

Amazon wouldn't shut down if successfully botcotted: they'd mucg more likely fix their employment practices.

Generally, the goal of a boycott isn't to force a company to shut down, it's to force them to change their ways to end the boycott.

So long as we can save a few pennies and a few minutes by utilizing Amazon, there will be no boycott of any meaningful size.

Also, user comments in the Reddit thread about the "comfort break" incident indicate that AWS is Amazon's primary source of revenue these days. This is backed up by much of Amazon's own PR reporting. For a boycott to have any meaningful impact against Amazon, it would have to include a hit against that revenue.

Call it pessimism, but it's my opinion that few if any companies will incur the costs to move their own business out of Amazon simply to penalize them for poor working conditions in another section of the company.

> For a boycott to have any meaningful impact against Amazon, it would have to include a hit against that revenue [AWS]

I disagree, for two reasons:

1. By that logic, Amazon would shut down or sell off their consumer sales business because it's not worth bothering with.

2. Even if (hypothetically) the shareholders and top-level managers of Amazon didn't care about consumer sales, there is a lower-level (but still fairly high) manager whose sole responsibility is consumer sales. If a boycott substantially hurts those sales, their personal career prospects are hurt, so you can bet they would care enough to change how their part of the business operates.

Of course, this is academic because I agree with this:

> So long as we can save a few pennies and a few minutes by utilizing Amazon, there will be no boycott of any meaningful size.

> AWS is Amazon's primary source of revenue these days

Source on that please? I'm highly dubious.

Just pulled up their filings[1], and I'm almost certainly misreading it, but in Q3 2017:

  NA Retail Revenue: $25,446M
  NA Retail Profit:  $   112M
  AWS Revenue:       $ 4,584M
  AWS Profit:        $ 1,171M
Pedantically, it seems like AWS is not Amazon's primary source of revenue, but is the primary source of profit.


[1] https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000101872417...

Inaccurate wording on my part. AWS is amazon's primary source of "operational income" (i.e. raw revenue minus operational costs) these days. $1.17 billion for AWS vs. $0.35 billion for Amazon as a whole, for Q3 2017.


I see, I see. Thank you for clarifying.

AWS is also the primary driver behind amazons stock price.

Within a few months or years amazons shopping marketplace could become eclipsed by another. Consumers can switch brands quite quickly if they see a better service elsewhere.

AWS on the other hand is very hard to migrate from. Can you imagine the investment necessary to move a large company off AWS infrastructure, when you have legacy and unsupported services that nobody knows how they work, depends on intricacies of amazons managed services, and have no way of doing zero downtime data migration?

Basically, Amazon can gradually increase the price of existing AWS services, while lowering the price of all new services to attract new customers. (Think "From 2019 we will be releasing S4, the new cheaper data storage system!").

There's a big difference between boycotting Nike, and boycotting Amazon. In the case of Nike, there were more than enough substitute goods to fill the gap for a consumer choosing to not purchase athletic gear from Nike.

How would that work with Amazon? Their product isn't only the stuff you buy. It's the ease of the process and the quickness of delivery. What can you substitute for that?

Wont/cant are indistinguishable when you really don't want to do something.

I'm no moral crusader, but I very rarely use Amazon. In the last 12 months I've ordered 2 things, a jeweler kit and a charger. If I were trying to affect a boycott I could have last year easily!

I'm intrigued by the idea of someone who has tethered their life to an online shopping experience. Maybe THAT is who buy Amazon Echos.

>I very rarely use Amazon

It's interesting to think about... the extreme would be to stop visiting websites hosted on AWS.

Precisely. I would probably have a much easier time avoiding Amazon.com than I would, say, IMDB (owned by Amazon) or The Washington post (owned by Bezos).

> How would that work with Amazon? Their product isn't only the stuff you buy. It's the ease of the process and the quickness of delivery. What can you substitute for that?

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death!

You can choose to boycott these companies and potentially suffer certain inconveniences that, ultimately, are not much of a big deal.

I've stopped buying from Amazon because of counterfeit goods being commingled with legitimate inventory.

Their process used to be uniquely easy and fast, but that's no longer the case. Buying from nearly any large online retailer is just as easy and fast these days.

Believe it or not, my life did not collapse when I stopped buying from Amazon.

People complain about this constantly, but I look at my experiences with Amazon, and I have to wonder what they are buying that they have things that can be counterfeited so easily. I buy a ton of stuff on Amazon, and have never received anything fake.

It can be anything, really. Look at the reviews for items. Sometimes you'll notice an item has great, 5-star reviews and about 10% are terrible 1-star reviews. If you read through those 1-star reviews you might notice that sometimes there's a trend of the reviewer discovering they received a fake.

How widespread is the problem in reality? I have no idea. But given that I can simply shop elsewhere, get a similar experience, and feel more certain that I'm not receiving a counterfeit, I'll do just that.

I'm a consumer, not an analyst. If I think that I might receive a counterfeit from Amazon I'll just shop elsewhere, I have bigger things to worry about.

Most of the time you can just buy the same thing in another place. Maybe it's different in the US but here in Europe I don't find Amazon better or faster than any random e-commerce website, so it's pretty trivial to boycott them.

In fact, I do avoid buying from them as I don't like the way they treat their employees.

I get the impression Amazon are much "bigger" in the states. Size, reach, marketing? Not sure. I don't particularly find Amazon UK very user friendly and very rarely if ever do they have the cheapest price so I don't find myself there often.

I also consider them a bit dirty for the same reason as you as I know employees and they are treated like garbage. Maybe not in head office, but certainly in distribution.

Nearly always Amazon is more expensive for whatever I want to buy.

Yet nearly everyone I meet assures me amazon is usually cheapest.

I feel like the general population never checks Ebay or Aliexpress.

The thing that worked for me was to not renew my Prime membership. It then became much easier to force myself to use something like eBay. It's really difficult to wait those 5 extra days for shipping but makes me feel a little better nonetheless. For cloud I use Azure.

And if you absolutely need something within two days, USPS Priority mail comes within that time frame (though may be prohibitively expensive for large packages).

Also, for those who have one: cancel the Amazon Rewards credit card.

> Their product isn't only the stuff you buy. It's the ease of the process and the quickness of delivery.

I find Amazon to be very bad on ease of the process/quickness of delivery/price: Their dark patterns to sell prime subscription. Their hiding the delivery cost. Their asking and storing credit card before telling you the final price. Their 8 (yes eight) screens buying process!

Any other web-merchant is better than Amazon if you are not already an Amazon client.

Everybody is talking about a decentralized Facebook alternative, but can't we build "federated shopping", where independent shop owners join in an Amazon-like shopping experience (for the customer), with reviews based on proof-of-purchase, using smart contracts/blockchain technology?

What recourse would a buyer have if they pay, and then never receive an item? If your answer to that is, "smart contract wouldn't release funds until they verify they've received item", then what recourse would a seller have if they send product, but the user never completes the transaction and verifies that they received the product?

This isn't a pithy response, I'm genuinely curious how this kind of thing could be worked around. Independent third party mediator that can contact both parties to figure out what happened (perhaps incentivized with a % of the smart contract's value?)

There is a concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, where both the buyer and seller put 1.5x the value into a special 2-of-2 multisig address (I'm using Bitcoin as an example).

Then, two transactions are created (but not yet signed); 1 that pays the seller their share and returns the remaining deposit to the buyer, and one that is the other way around (refund).

When the item is shipped / received, and everything is good, both parties sign the transaction to unlock the funds. If either side attempts to scam the other, they are out 1.5x the price of the object. It becomes both party's interest to ensure that conflicts can be resolved so the deposits can be unlocked.

In other words, it is escrow without the 3rd party.

There is more information here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/215yn2/mad_ransom_...

> Independent third party mediator that can contact both parties to figure out what happened (perhaps incentivized with a % of the smart contract's value?)

Yes, I certainly see that as an option.

And perhaps a system like this needs more types of "special actors", e.g. for supporting alternative payment methods.

Great idea. And those independent thirdy-party mediators could even offer other services, like reviews. And you could pay through them. They could even have their own website. They could call it Amazon or something.

This is similar to what Jet's original vision was. Since the shipping cost is baked into the price of items sold online, Jet would have you buy from local retailers who could bundle the items they sold you, allowing the consumer to save money since the shipping costs were cheaper.

Great idea in theory, not sure how it's working out in practice. I think Jet had trouble establishing a brand - it was acquired in September 2016 by Wal-Mart.

Sounds like OpenBazaar https://www.openbazaar.org

Isn't that a little like ebay or aliexpress?

Those are companies. This is about a federated/decentralized approach.

Amazon uses a lot of third-party sellers, so in a way Amazon is more like EBay.

Large part of this experience comes from having central management that forces all parts to follow same standards, and from investing money into many things that are not essential for smaller stores, but overall contribute to the experience. I believe some sort of shopping platform could be created, but most likely independent stores would need to feel even more pressure to subject itself to stricter rules and more importantly, to understand that better technology equals more sales (or any at all) and that they have to cooperate to continue to exist.

It took decades for technology mature enough to make it truly easy for even a mom & pop shop, an individual creator, or a service provider to set up shop, accept payments, fulfill and deliver orders on the web.

A lot of the new technology that could potentially become the backbone of the proverbial New Internet is still in its infancy. I will be probably evolve quicker than the first few waves but at the moment it still feels like nerdy tools built by nerds for other nerds.

Not when >80% of independent shops sell same Chinese crap.

Doesn't this also describe amazon?

So? Then the market will adjust. Seems a net win for customer and seller.

What does blockchain add to this?

You can prove that your reviewer is the same person as the person who paid with blockchain. I'm just not sure how to do so if the customer pays with traditional means.

That has an interesting side effect. If someone writes enough bad reviews, will people stop selling to them? We saw VE electronics refuse to sell anything else to anyone who gave them a bad review on any product. Would vendors band together on this?

I suppose one could just create a different wallet and use that one.

Investor interest.

Ensuring that you can only place a review for an item if you have purchased the item.

Or similarly for placing a review about a shop.

Sounds like the days when you bought your firewood from firefuel.com, your bicycle from speedbybikes.com and your coats from warmjackets.com

It turns out people didn't trust a large number of separate sellers without a central organisation to set rules, offer refunds and make a consistent shopping experience.

Meanwhile, there are lots of reports about counterfeits on Amazon. And can we really trust their review system?

So, basically eBay with buzzwords?

By the way, similar tech could be used for the gig economy, e.g. ride-sharing services and food-delivery services.

What you describe sounds like Open Bazaar.

No, it's time to have labour laws making what's happening in Amazon warehouses too costly due to fines to continue.

We have a legal system that contains far too many greys areas. It is not clear if Amazon is using legal loopholes or deserve fines. I see the legal system as something always getting more bloated and more complex. Evidence of its malfunction is that the outcome of a trial is often unpredictable (see Oracle vs Google). I think the legal system should try to become more like a deterministic algorithm.

> Evidence of its malfunction is that the outcome of a trial is often unpredictable

No, that's not evidence of malfunction. If the outcome is predictable, there is no reason to have a trial, and you'd expect a settlement without trial, which is exactly what happens in most cases, civil or criminal.

The only reason for the cost and expense of a trial is an unpredictable outcome.

- the non-deterministic part is largely a jury trial system, which has people who are not legal professionals, nor have domain knowledge required to grasp the problem at hand sufficiently to be able to pass a judgement. Same applies to judges of course, but specialization is likely to help

- the legal system is lacking a hard rule requiring the penalty for a violation of a law by a business to exceed the profits the business made due to the violation by a significant margin. If a car maker failing to recall faulty cars was guaranteed to be fined no less than 10x the cost of the recall if caught the decision making process would be quite different.

I am french and two days ago there was a judgment to solve a conflict between the wife of Johnny Hallidays and his first children. The predictions of the journalists (who were very confident of themselves) have been totally contradicted by the judge. All the elements of the file and the personality of people were public knowledge. My point is that even when no element is hidden, the result of a trial is fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is slightly different in America because paying a lot of money to lawyers is a very effective way to change the result. IMHO, the aim of the justice in democraty is to be fair and independant of wealth. Random is not fair.

I agree the legal system needs a good refactor from time to time. It’s like software, over time accrues debt.

> I agree the legal system needs a good refactor from time to time. It’s like software, over time accrues debt.

It's like software, in that incremental changes are safer and ground-up rewrites are usually disastrous failures engineered by people who failed to fully understand the complexity of the application domain.

OTOH, I'm not sure a “refactor” is a meaningful concept for the legal system. Oh, sure, you can hold requirements and expected outcomes the same and change the details, structure, and organization of legal code. “Refactors” of that kind happen all the time. They aren't as significant in impact as with software, because the code isn't imperative and doesn't run on dumb machines, so refactors are mostly about readability, and don't (e.g.) improve runtime resource usage significantly.

Usually a refactor happens through a revolution which throws the government out and with it all its laws.

We haven't seen one of those in the western world for a while though.

Why does an article about boycotting Amazon try to convince you to share their content directly to Amazon's servers? Seems to me like the author does not believe in this mission one bit and is just writing clickbait.

Author, if you're reading this, you ought to live by your words and reduce at least your Amazon supporting activities in the very article you are complaining about their doninance in. Remove that Reddit share icon and everything eles that sends data to Amazon, or we'll all assume you don't care about this, you're just in it for the money and the fame and the clicks. With that Reddit share button, you make it clear you want us to use Amazon a lot to spread your content far and wide.

Can't have it both ways.

TNW is a well respected and well established tech news site with a large team [0]. The author likely doesn't have direct control over the sharing buttons.

I take your point, but on the other hand it is probably quite difficult to be aware of all sites that use AWS, especially if they sit behind a CDN. I didn't know Reddit use AWS.

[0] https://thenextweb.com/team/

I guess not the whole team at thenextweb.com shares this author's opinion.

I always wondered why Amazon doesn't have some labor union which at least negotiates normal working conditions.

Boycotting usually doesn't have the same effect as a 2-days strike.

They seem to have an union at least here in Spain, and maybe in other countries as well. Last month, workers at a local Amazon ware house in Madrid did a 2-day strike, which was pushed by a national workers union as a complain on the working conditions [1]. I've been out of the loop on news so I don't know how things are going since then.

[1]: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-spain/spains-a...

Boycott isn't a solution, proper media coverage is. Nike was damaged not by boycott campaign but by a massive media outbreak. Just image effect of good documentary film created by some famous talented director. It's much much worse for reputation than disorganized boycott campaign.

Boycotts are, among other things, tactics to get media (and thereby public) attention. Saying a result. wasn't produced by a boycott because it required media attention which was in significant part drawn by the boycott, which had drawing such attention as a goal, is, well, missing the point of active protest entirely.


Even without a boycott movement, we may already have reached peak Amazon.

This year, the Supreme Court may create a revolution in the ability of US states to tax consumer purchases from online retailers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Dakota_v._Wayfair,_Inc.#...). This could erode Amazon's online retail profitability enough to seriously slow its ever-increasing sales volume and give the competition enough breathing room to survive and even grow a bit.

And Trump keeps complaining about the prices the USPS receives to deliver Amazon. Whether or not there's any merit in Trump's complaint, as a convenient piece of political theater, this cause could easily be picked up by the next president and renegotiated. It would be a crowd pleaser for someone like Elizabeth Warren.

Perhaps the playing field will be tilted just enough to slow the whole Amazon machine.

Amazon already charges tax on all 1p purchases, changes in that law wouldn't hurt them much.

But what about all the small retailers that do business under the Amazon umbrella?

Somehow, a lot of those little businesses still do not charge sales tax. A significant fraction of Amazon's sales are those little retailers.

Or perhaps the playing field will be tilted even further in Amazon's favor. Collecting taxes is difficult. There are hundreds of thousands of variables depending on where you are currently standing and what you are buying. Consider, for instance, that you pay different sales taxes in different parts of Disney World.

There's a space for a service that manages that burden for you. The service might already exist and is probably called 'Amazon Fulfillment'.

There sure seem to be a lot of sales tax calculation service and software companies already, aside from Amazon:


A lot of them are revealed by googling 'sales and use tax software'

I think that sort of software solution has been around for about 20 years.

Oh, no doubt. I helped to support that software twenty years ago. It was expensive. It took constant grooming from an entire team of people. At the end of the month, the company had to cut hundreds of checks to authorities all over the country. For a Fortune 500 company, this is a normal cost of doing business. But this is not the kind of thing you want to subject small business owners to.

We only had to go through this mess two decades ago because we had nexus sites at all our warehouses. Before Mayfair, the mom-and-pop internet seller could get by with only taxing their local customers.

The Mayfair result is going to force difficult and expensive sales tax compliance onto the backs of small business. Your small business owner doesn't want to go shopping for 'sales and use tax software'. They want the shopping cart to do that work for them.

Unless the states actually get together to come up with a simplified and unified system, companies like Amazon who can abstract all that away are are going to be a necessity. I think a nation-wide internet sales tax is better than forcing additional burden onto small business or driving them right into the arms of places like Amazon.

> Consider, for instance, that you pay different sales taxes in different parts of Disney World.

Whoa, what? This sounds interesting--do you have a link you could share?

"Most of the Walt Disney World Resort is in Orange County, Florida which has a tax rate of 6.5% while the most southern Resort hotels and venues are in Osceola County, Florida which has a 7.0% tax rate." [1]

See also: [2]

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=taxes%20in%20disneyworld [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reedy_Creek_Improvement_Distri...

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