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Ama​zon​.com Inc

Amazon is known for its shameless tax avoidance, workers’ rights abuses, environmental impacts and much more. The company has been the subject of an Ethical Consumer global boycott call since 2012.

We’ve summarised the key ethical issues to consider when it comes to Amazon.

 

How ethical is Amazon?

Our research highlights many ethical issues for Amazon, including: climate change, environmental reporting, habitats & resources, pollutions and toxics, arms & military supply human rights, worker's rights, supply chain management, irresponsible marketing, animal rights, animal testing, factory farming, palm oil sourcing, cotton sourcing, timber sourcing, use of controversial technologies, political activities and anti-social finance.   

Below we outline some of these issues. To see the full detailed stories, and Amazon's overall ethical rating, please sign in or subscribe.
 

Anti-social finance

Monumental tax avoidance

We launched a boycott of Amazon in 2012 over its tax avoidance. This was called because in 2011, as the world's biggest online retailer, Amazon generated UK sales of £2.9bn yet paid only £1.8m in corporation tax. The correct figure should have been over £8 million at the full rate of corporation tax at that time. 

Things have become much worse since then. 

In 2021, fuelled by the pandemic, Amazon reported a near 200-percent rise in profits, yet taxes paid by the company barely increased on the previous years. 

Research by Ethical Consumer has calculated that, in 2021, up to half a billion pounds (£500,000,000) could have been lost to the UK public purse from the corporation tax avoidance of Amazon. It is likely that the same amount would have been lost in 2022. 

To make matters even worse, it was reported in June 2023 that Amazon received a tax credit of £7.7m. This means that in 2022, Amazon’s main UK division not only avoided paying taxes, it took from the pot that tax-payers filled. 

Excessive director’s pay

Amazon also lost points for excessive director’s payment. According to its latest annual report, Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy received over $12 million in 2022. 

An average warehouse worker in the UK earns just under £13 an hour. 


People

Workers’ rights

Amazon is renowned for its poor treatment of its workers.  

On many occasions it has aggressively opposed unionisation and organising efforts at its warehouses. Trying to prevent collective bargaining within its workforce, the company has reportedly spent $14 million on anti-union consultants in 2022.

Amazon workers in Coventry, supported by labour union GMB, carried out strikes over pay in 2023 in both April and in July.

In October 2021, 1400 UK delivery drivers sued Amazon seeking employment rights, including minimum wage and holiday pay. In March 2023 Amazon tried to dismiss the lawsuit but a judge ruled that it could proceed.

Amazon suppliers don’t receive better treatment either from the company. This year, for the first time Amazon was listed in the UK’s Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) survey. The GCA is responsible for encouraging, monitoring and enforcing compliance with the Code and thus for regulating the relationships between the UK's largest grocery retailers and their direct suppliers. Perhaps unsurprisingly Amazon jumped straight to the last place of the list with almost four times as many accusations of code violations as the next company up.

Human rights

Amazon sources conflict minerals and cotton without adequately stringent policies for protecting human rights, which is concerning because these products are at risk of being sourced from places where human rights abuses occur, including Turkmenistan (in the cotton sector) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (conflict minerals). Much more is needed than vague commitments to ensure the supply chain is free from violations. 

Children’s privacy violations

In June 2023 Amazon agreed to pay $25 million in fines to settle alleged privacy violations. These involved its voice assistant Alexa and doorbell camera Ring. US’s Federal Trade Commission claims in one lawsuit that the tech company kept recordings of children's conversations with its voice assistant Alexa but failed to delete them – as it had promised it would – when parents asked it to do so. 

Amazon agreed to pay another $5.8 million, because Ring had allowed employees and contractors to watch recordings of customers' private spaces, sometimes including bedrooms and bathrooms.

Environment

Timber

Although some of its furniture is Forest Stewardship Council certified, when we looked into this in April 2023 this wasn’t true for all products. Amazon doesn’t have an overarching timber policy which means that virgin forests may have been cut down for Amazon timber products.

Palm oil

The mass production of palm oil relies on the destruction of rainforests. This has wide ranging impacts including contributing to climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity and human rights.

Some of Amazon’s products come from a physically certified supply chain but less than 50%, meaning that half of its palm is untraceable and could potentially be connected to abuses of rainforests and people.

Toxic chemicals

Amazon doesn’t have any public policy covering the use of toxic chemicals in its electronics products. Substances, such as brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride are widely used by electronics companies and have significant negative environmental impact when released after disposal.

In terms of cotton, Amazon has a commitment to “source all cotton for our Amazon Private Brands apparel products from more-sustainable sources by the end of 2022.” It says that it intends to use cotton sourced for example from recycled materials, from farms certified as producing organic cotton, or through Better Cotton. But, it’s 2023 now, and it doesn’t look like that commitment has been fulfilled yet…

Cosmetics wise, it does prohibit the use of harmful chemicals triclosan and phthalates, and while it doesn’t have a blanket ban on parabens it does prohibit use of a couple of the most commonly used parabens in cosmetics.

Animals

Amazon lost points for having no policy on animal testing, for selling products made of factory farmed animals and for selling live animals, such as lobsters on its website. Fur coats made of racoons, rabbits and chinchillas are also for sale on its website.

It prohibits listings relating to endangered species, but only in line with the law, so it’s really doing the bare minimum when it comes to the wellbeing of other species.

More information on all these topics is on our Boycott Amazon page.

The text above was written on 21 July 2023.

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  • Ethical Consumer Best Buy: No
  • Boycotts: Yes

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