Global protests against Amazon supply chain abuses

As Amazon held its annual shareholder meeting, workers and activists protested from Cambodia to the UK and from Japan to Brazil.

Amazon relies on some 1,400 factories worldwide, including hundreds of garment factories. The company is now the top fashion retailer in the USA, and has announced record profits during the pandemic. Yet Amazon is refusing to ensure that laid off factory workers receive the severance pay owed to them, a recent report by the Worker Rights Consortium found. 

On the 26th May, workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh led solidarity action around the world, calling for all Amazon workers including those in supply chains to be paid.

Cambodia

In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Amazon supplier Hulu Garment suspended all 1,020 of its workers. At the end of the suspension, workers were told to sign a document with a thumbprint in return for their final wages. Workers signed without knowing that the document included a sentence to say that they voluntarily resigned from their roles.

Hulu Garment has withheld $3.6million in severance pay from its workers. Yi Sokunthea, who had worked at Hulu Garment for 15 years, said: “I have two children and elderly parents depending on me. I had to reduce my daily expenses by 50%. I needed to pull my children out of school for a while.”

Now workers are calling on Amazon to ensure that their legally-owed severance is paid. 

Bangladesh

Garment workers in Bangladesh were laid off in October when Amazon supplier Global Garments closed. The closure seems to follow a pattern from the company’s owner Azim Group, which has gradually closed all five of its unionised factories since 2014, according to War on Want.

Rintu Barua worked at the factory for 20 years as a quality checker and now says that he’s blacklisted due to his union activism: “The closure of the factory has taken away our means to survive. I’ve been trying to get a new job for over six months. But because I was a union leader at Global Garments, no one in the industry will hire me.”

Unionised workers are now demanding that the factory reopen, rehire the 1,200 union members, and provide back pay. 

Amazon workers, trade unions and other allies have supported calls for better conditions in Amazon’s supply chains, in unity between warehouse, delivery and garment workers worldwide. 

While workers struggle with unpaid wages, union busting and poor working conditions, Amazon’s net profits rose by a staggering 84% during 2020. The company now has a net worth of US $314.9 billion. 

Make Amazon Pay, a coalition of more than 50 organisations including Ethical Consumer, held actions across five continents demanding change. Protests included a demonstration at the company’s AGM in London. Labour Behind the Label, GMB, TUC, War on Want and ITF all supported the calls. 

Casper Gelderblom, the Progressive International’s coordinator for Make Amazon Pay, said:

“Amazon is the most powerful corporation in the world, and its CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet. This power and wealth depends entirely on the labor of hundreds of thousands of workers around the world. Workers make the product you buy, package it for you, and deliver it to your doorstep. Workers, not Bezos, make Amazon’s world run.

“Around the world, the workers producing Amazon’s profits are standing up to claim their rights. Across its supply chain, Amazon refuses to pay workers the respect and wages they deserve. Loud and clear, Amazon’s producers, distributors, and delivery drivers are telling Jeff Bezos: pay your workers.”

What can consumers do?

1. Read more about the problems with Amazon, tax, and workers rights in our summary article.

2. Find out how to shop without using Amazon with our handy guides to things like ethical booksellers, clothes shops and tablets.

3. Join the Make Amazon Pay campaign #MakeAmazonPay

4. Read the research report 'Fired then robbed: Fashion brands’ complicity in wage theft during Covid-19' by the Worker Rights Consortium