How ethical is eBay?
Our research highlights many ethical issues with eBay, including its approach to climate change, workers’ rights, supply chain management, animal rights, political activities, and anti-social finance.
Below we outline some of these issues. To see the full detailed stories, and eBay's overall ethical rating, please sign in or subscribe.
Tax avoidance and executive payment
eBay has holding companies in tax havens, such as The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Holding companies are high risk company types for tax avoidance. In 2019 it was criticised for paying less than £10m in tax in the UK, despite sales being over £1bn.
The company also lost a whole mark for excessive executive payment: eBay CEO Jamie Iannone earned £13 million in 2022.
As eBay is a selling platform it doesn’t have a supply chain in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, we expected some sort of policy, protecting its workers' rights. Its “Third Party Code of Business Conduct and Ethics” only includes the bare minimum: it prohibits forced labour and discrimination, and respects freedom of association. It doesn’t talk about a living wage and its child labour clauses are inadequate. It received our worst rating for its supply chain management.
Fined for harassment by senior employees
Two eBay employees, including a senior director, were jailed after they harassed the authors of a newsletter which criticised the eBay brand and platform, including through sending them spiders and cockroaches. US attorney Josh Levy said “Ebay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct. The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell, in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand.”
eBay has been a member of multiple trade organisations which lobby the government for their own gain. Free trade lobby groups have been criticised by campaigners for lobbying for business interests at the expense of the environment, human rights, and animal welfare. These are the US Council for International Business and the National Foreign Trade Council. eBay lost a whole mark for its membership in these organisations.
The company also spent a significant amount of money on political donations: in 2022 $1,520,000 was spent on lobbying and it was linked to $318,996 in political contributions. Furthermore, 19 out of its 19 lobbyists have previously held government jobs.
eBay Refurbished, eBay’s latest initiative, was launched in 2021. The “like-new”, branded items come with a warranty and a standardised rating system, in which the products are categorised as certified, excellent, very good, or good. Although this was a step in the right direction in terms of increasing reuse and recycling, 80% of eBay’s inventory is brand new.
UK's worst e-commerce site for carbon emissions
The company was criticised by Banc Digital as the worst carbon emitter across the UK, generating 907.8 tonnes of CO2 per month in the UK alone. According to eBay, data centres comprised 86% of its total energy use in 2022. In a response to Banc Digital’s claims eBay said that “As of 2020, 74% of the energy sourced for eBay’s owned data centres and offices is renewable, with plans to make this 100% by 2025”.
It received our middle rating for Environmental Reporting and our worst rating for Climate Change.
eBay sells animal products without adequate policies on animal welfare or animal testing. Its animal products policy only prohibited some specific items including ivory, and items made from certain species of animals that are already banned by the law.