Your Outrage Over Amazon’s Work Culture is Hypocritical and Here’s Why

Since Saturday, The New York Times exposé revealing Amazon.com’s “hellish” work culture, under the iron fist of CEO Jeff Bezos, has earned coverage from major news outlets throughout the world.

“80 hours and work in the bathroom!” one headline cries.

“Employees ‘enslaved,’” says another.

“Amazon ‘ruthless’ with employees?”

And the list goes on.

While Bezos and other high-level executives have called the accusations unfair and inaccurate, the report has stirred up a frenzy of consumers, declaring their “boycott” of Amazon.

This is the last straw, they say. One writer for The Guardian says the NYT piece is “legitimately jaw-dropping.”

As this shit storm has been raining down on Amazon over the past four days, I’ve been reading the coverage with my jaw also on the floor.

For a different reason.

While everyone is busy crucifying Bezos and Amazon for its “strict” and “bruising” workplace culture, they seem to have forgotten about the workers on the other side of the world who make the majority of the products that Amazon sells.

And that’s the sheer hypocrisy of what it is that we’re all so “outraged” about.

It’s 2015 and there are over 30 million people in the world who are actually forced to work 100 hours a week — without pay, without vacation.

They don’t have the annoyance of answering emails on their days off, because they don’t get days off.

They don’t have ambulances on call when someone passes out from heat exhaustion. They’re beaten and replaced by someone else.

Bezos has been called a “modern-day slave trader,” while there are actual slave traders all over the world, selling men, women and children for manual and sexual labor.

And the part about not having air conditioning in the workplace?

Well, you get my point.

How is it that every day we’re comfortable buying, wearing and using products made by actual slaves and yet consumers are threatening to boycott Amazon because their employees have to work on vacation?

In the past three years alone, thousands of people who make the clothes we buy have died because of factory collapses and fires. Building exits locked, windows sealed shut, non-existent bathroom breaks — how’s that for “company culture?”

When you consider that there are more bonded laborers today than ever before in history, the “plight” of the white-collar Amazon worker loses some of its footing. Yes, the conditions described by the NYT article are problematic and present a major issue in American corporate culture, but there is one big factor that is getting overlooked:

And it’s the fact that every “Amazonian” has the freedom to leave their job.

Every single one of Bezos’ ‘white-collar’ employees has the privilege of changing their circumstances. Even more, they have the luxury of coming from one of the most well-known and lauded companies on the planet.

They’ll have “Amazon” on their resumes for the rest of their careers and more than likely, be able to get another job.

This pales in comparison to the person who is bound to a job — beaten, dehumanized, starved, sold and forced to work seven days a week — with no chance of ever getting out of it. All so that we can buy clothes, electronics, furniture and other crap we don’t need.

And that’s why the perspective we’re missing is quite simply this:

We should be more outraged by the millions of people enslaved to make the products that Amazon sells than by the way it treats its white collar employees.

In no way do I condone Amazon’s lack of empathy for sick employees, women coming back from maternity leave or the other reports. But I do I ask you to look at the bigger picture. And before you pick this battle, consider the fight you’re overlooking.

Because it’s a fight that you can actually impact every day, with every dollar you spend and how you spend it.

If you’re going to boycott Amazon, then do it for reasons other than the white-collar bubble you’re living in.


Shannon Whitehead is a writer and advocate for a more transparent and ethical fashion industry. She is also the founder of Factory45.

Photo credit: Getty Images

[The facts mentioned in this post are linked to sources.]

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