Sunday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company is donating $690,000 ($1 million AUD) to Australian bushfire relief efforts.
To put this number in perspective, Bezos is worth $116,000,000,000; the figure is equal to .00059 percent of his net worth. It is the equivalent of someone worth $50,000 donating 29 cents. Of course, it’s not even Bezos’s money. It’s Amazon’s money. Amazon’s current market cap is $933,670,000,000. $690,000 is .000073 percent of $933.67 billion, which means that the donation hurts Amazon’s bottom line as much as it would hurt a person worth $50,000 to donate three cents.
This is to say that Amazon’s donation is insulting. It’s a paltry donation from a tech company that has one of the worst records on environmental and climate issues, and it’s a tiny fraction of the money that Amazon should be paying in taxes but has avoided thanks to creative accounting (in 2018, Amazon paid just $20 million in taxes on $1 billion in revenue in Australia.) Yes, the donation is $690,000 that can be used for relief efforts, but Amazon’s donation isn’t happening in a vacuum.
With its donation, Amazon has already gotten positive press on Australia’s largest news website and on sites like Yahoo! And Business Insider. (Amazon wrote on its blog that "our hearts go out to all Australians, the country’s communities, bushland, and wildlife affected by the devastating bushfires.") None of those websites mentioned that Amazon has the biggest carbon footprint in the tech industry, that it has many active partnerships with fossil fuel companies (including Woodside Petroleum, Australia's largest oil and gas company), that it had a literal gas pump at its booth at CES, or that it has threatened to fire employees who have pushed the company to reduce its carbon footprint.
And, of course, none of those websites mentioned that maybe Amazon should just pay its damn taxes.
Many conservatives argue that we should lightly regulate businesses and keep tax rates low, that we should encourage people (and businesses) to make a lot of money. Those rich people will then establish charities or donate their money to existing charities, which will use the money more effectively than the government would. This is nonsense, however, and we should tax the rich and tax businesses; no one should ever have as much money as Bezos has.
In practice, here’s how the status quo plays out: Amazon donates $690,000 to bushfire relief efforts. Its philanthropic efforts are largely lauded in the press (and it writes that money off on its taxes.) Amazon hopes no one mentions that the bushfires are a product of climate change, and that both Amazon’s core, consumer-facing business and its cloud computing business are actively making climate change worse, even before you consider its contracts with oil and gas companies. It hopes no one mentions that $690,000 is a tiny fraction of the tax that Amazon should be paying but isn’t. We thank Bezos for his pennies, and the world keeps burning.