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Ten reasons to avoid Amazon this Christmas

We list 10 reasons to avoid Amazon this Christmas and beyond, from ongoing abuses of its workers to tax avoidance globally which affects the public purse.

They may seem like Santa but they're much more like Scrooge. Here's why...

1. It is an aggressive tax avoider.

We estimated that in 2021 the UK lost around £500million from Amazon’s tax avoidance. By doing everything from registering its UK profits in Luxembourg to deferring its taxation by investing for its monopoly, the company has aggressively avoided paying its share to the public purse.

According to the most recent figures, because of its aggressive tax avoidance strategies, Amazon is likely to pay around £22m - just 4.2% of the £500m that might be expected in the UK. 

And its tax avoidance isn't only affecting the UK: globally the gap between what Amazon reports it is paying in tax and the actual cash it's handing over to authorities amounts to £6billion, according to the campaign organisation Fair Tax Mark

Paul Monaghan from Fair Tax Mark says,

"Amazon is growing its market domination across the globe on the back of income that is largely untaxed, allowing it to unfairly undercut local businesses that take a more responsible approach. Contrived financial arrangements lie at the heart of Amazon’s success.”

Ethical Consumer continues to call for a boycott of Amazon over its outrageous tax avoidance. 

2. Amazon has treated its workers poorly for years.

In March 2021, Jennifer Bates, an Amazon worker testified before a Senate Budget Committee in the US, stating:

“My work day feels like a nine-hour intense workout every day, and they track our every move. I learned that if I worked too slow or had too much time off task, I could be disciplined or even fired."

Her testimony is nothing new. Over the last decade, more and more Amazon workers have spoken out.

In October 2020, TUC released a report about Amazon’s mistreatment of its employees. It found that employees in Amazon warehouses worked 55 hour weeks/ 10 hour days on average, were expected to pack around 300 items per hour, and were harassed, disciplined or fired if they failed to meet their targets. Workers felt unable to take breaks or visit the bathroom, and sometimes had to urinate in bottles. 

The report linked the gruelling conditions to serious accidents or workplace exhaustion, finding that over a three year period, ambulances had been called out 600 times to 14 Amazon warehouses in Britain. One facility alone saw 115 emergency calls, compared to only 8 over the same period at a similar sized supermarket distribution centre just a few miles away.

3. Its abuses come at a high price for workers in the cost of living crisis.

In November 2022, Amazon workers and activists from all over the globe will again take action against Amazon’s atrocious conditions as part of #MakeAmazonPay Black Friday protests. 

The campaign says that

"real wages are going down while the corporation rakes in record revenue - $121bn for the second quarter of 2022 - and doubles down on its union-busting tactics."

Violations have also been reported in the company’s supply chain, with Amazon failing to respond. According to the campaign group Labour Behind the Label in November 2021:

“Amazon’s supplier Hulu Garment tricked its entire workforce of 1,020 workers into resigning in a shocking attempt to rob their workers of $3.6 million (USD) in legally owed severance.

“After being told their factory may need to lay people off due to loss of orders during the corona pandemic, the workers were told they would not receive their last wages if they did not sign a document management had presented them with. A sentence in this document stating they were resigning was hidden, purposefully covered up by the worker’s most recent payslip. The workers were made to “sign” with a thumb print.”

Labour Behind the Label says that Amazon has done nothing to address the issue. 

4. Amazon sells its services to fossil fuel companies.

Amazon offers its high tech services to help fossil fuel companies find more oil and gas.

In August 2022, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was a "quieter beneficiary" of the boom in oil and gas prices, and was, for example, "helping drillers run simulations to maximize how much oil they can pump from existing wells. Amazon was said to have stated that it was making "oil companies more efficient" as "part of their sustainability work".

Amazon has previously been accused of ‘aggressively courting’ the industry and offering machine learning and AI technologies to enable fossil fuel extraction at a time when “it is imperative most fossil fuels be left in the ground if we are to avoid severe climate disruption”.

Amazon was also found to have sponsored a 2020 event held by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank well known for spreading climate denial misinformation. 

It raised eyebrows therefore, when Jeff Bezos was asked to speak at the COP26 climate summit in November.

5. It’s failed to address its own environmental impacts.

In 2020, Amazon announced its target to be carbon neutral by 2040. Yet, in 2021 its emissions rose by 18%, despite only including 1% of all product sales.

Currently, the company reports its emissions at over 70 million tons CO2e a year - which is equivalent to over 70 million return passenger flights from London to New York. 

It is not only on climate targets where Amazon falls down. In April 2021, a video was published which showed Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse destroying over 124,000 items of unsold stock. Amazon destroys products that are outdated or have been returned, likely because to keep it stored is worth less than trashing it and bringing new stuff in.

Cartoon showing Jeff Bezoz in front of row of closed shops
Image credit Mike Bryson for ECRA

6. Amazon is damaging small independent businesses.

Amazon has come to dominate many online markets globally. 30% of all purchases made online are through the company. Its monopoly has marginalised many small independent businesses. 

Since Amazon launched as a bookseller in 1994, the UK and Ireland have lost more than 1,000 independent bookshops.

Bookshops are not the only independent retailers that believe themselves to have been damaged by Amazon’s monopoly. A 2022 report found that in the US, Amazon's market capture has displaced 136,000 bricks and mortar shops, and the rise of its warehouses provided only half as many jobs as the 1.7 million retail roles that have been lost to its monopoly. 

Amazon’s monopoly supports staggering inequalities: between March and September 2020, at a time when most businesses were struggling, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his personal wealth increase so much that he could have given all 876,000 Amazon employees a bonus of $105,000 and be as wealthy as he was pre-pandemic.

7. It's repeatedly accused of racism. 

In 2021, Amazon was sued in the US over accusations of "systemic" racism in its offices. A manager said that black people were hired for lower positions and were not promoted as quickly. 

In May 2022, workers staged a walkout from a company warehouse in the States, accusing Amazon of harassing employees of colour and wrongfully firing two black employees. 

In July 2022, Amazon was also accused of failing to respond after American warehouse workers received death threats and racist abuse. One worker said she was fired after telling Amazon she'd take legal action if her complaints of racism weren't addressed. 

Amazon has also enabled racial-bias and racial profiling through its technology. 

In 2018 and again in 2020, testing of Amazon’s ‘Rekognition’ facial software showed it to be fundamentally racially-biased. The software was found to disproportionately identify black members of Congress or Parliament as people who had been arrested and had mugshots held in a police database. 

In 2020, campaigners won a victory after the company announced a one-year moratorium on selling the technology to US police. A year later, the company announced that it would be extending the moratorium indefinitely. Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy project director at the American Civil Liberties Union said in response to the announcement:

"Face recognition technology fuels the over-policing of Black and Brown communities, and has already led to the false arrests and wrongful incarcerations of multiple Black men.”

8. It is accused of union busting.

“Amazon has been virulently anti-union everywhere it operates,”

according to Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union and Sharon Graham, Unite Executive Officer, writing in Ethical Consumer in May 2021.

In early 2021, workers in Bessemer, Alabama voted on whether to unionise. In the weeks beforehand, Amazon sent an army of anti-union consultants to the city, where they held intimidating and mandatory meetings – including threatening to close the facility down if unionisation was voted for – spread anti-union propaganda, and even changed the schedule of the traffic lights to sway the vote, according to campaigners.

When workers do manage to organise, they face serious repercussions. 

In May 2022, workers and managers were fired from a US warehouse after they successfully voted to unionise. One worker, who organised on behalf of the Amazon Labour Union, was told that he was being dismissed for "job abandonment" while on leave to care for someone with COVID-19. 

Just a month earlier, Amazon was forced to reinstate and provide back pay for an employee that it "unlawfully" dismissed after he protested against unsafe conditions during COVID-19. 

9. It has faced questions over spying on politicians and trade unions, and consumers.

In 2021, Amazon was hit with a massive class lawsuit alleging that the company was recording consumers' conversations without their consent using its Alexa smart speakers. In November 2022, the company was told to hand over 4.4 million documents to the court case.

In 2020, a group of MEPs wrote to Jeff Bezos - Amazon’s founder and chief executive - after evidence emerged that the company may be spying on politicians and trade union workers.

The company published two job posts in August for ‘intelligence analysts’ in the US, the roles for which included investigating the threat of organised labour against the company and monitoring ‘hostile political leaders’. 

The company deleted the job posts after they were widely publicised, and has since stated that they were inaccurate and posted in error. But MEPs also expressed concern over “increasing warnings about your company’s anti-union policy”.

10. You’ll be in solidarity with workers and activists globally.

Organisations all over the world have been protesting Amazon’s actions - from workers' unions and civil society organisations to anti-racism and anti-gentrification campaigns. 

In November 2020, a global coalition launched demanding that the company address its workers’, environmental and political abuses. #MakeAmazonPay has brought together a wide range of those campaigning against Amazon, including Ethical Consumer. It is leading global protests against the company in November 2022 including recommending boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Some campaigns have seen major success. In 2019, New York activists successfully drove Amazon away from the city where it had planned to build an HQ2 in return for almost $3 million in tax deals. In May 2021, the European Parliament challenged Jeff Bezos over Amazon’s union-busting and spying on workers. In April 2022, workers formed the first ever dedicated union at the company. 

By boycotting the company, you will be taking part in this global movement and building the pressure on Amazon – or the legislation that allows its abuses – to change.

Alternatives to Amazon

Our guide to ethical online retailers rates 25 online shops, from eBay to Oxfam, to help you find ways of shopping without supporting Amazon.

Ethical online retailers