The campaign was organised in part by Progressive International, a coalition of progressive groups around the world, as well as leading figures such as Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders. Today, it projected the phrase “Make Amazon Pay” onto the company’s London headquarters.
"Amazon’s unchecked growth is a threat to everyone’s rights,” Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, a charity involved in the campaign, tells VICE. “There is a litany of abuses associated with Amazon business practices, from harassment of workers to unsafe conditions in its warehouses, that stretch right through to its tax affairs.
“Unless our politicians step up, this company that fails to pay its fair share of tax, and fails to treat its workers with respect or pay a living wage, will continue to grow and dominate the global economy in the 21st century. It’s not the future that workers or the public want.”
Rehman hopes that workers and communities coming together across the world will force Amazon to give back to the communities where it operates to ensure that society benefits more from the global dominance of tech companies. The alternative, he says, is “gross inequality where a few are made grotesquely rich whilst others have their basic rights at work denied or earn less than a living wage”.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon increased its size and share prices dramatically. CEO Jeff Bezos is now $70bn richer than he was at the beginning of the crisis. This windfall, however, came alongside serious safety concerns regarding how the company handles COVID-19.
On Friday, British trade union GMB released a video alleging that the company had failed to make its workplaces COVID-secure. GMB national officer Mick Rix said in the video: “The health and safety record at Amazon is appalling and the dangers from coronavirus have made it even worse… Workers have been living in fear of being infected by COVID-19.”
According to the video, employees raised concerns about the lack of social distancing, hand sanitiser and protective equipment in the early days of the pandemic. Rix says that Amazon only started taking the situation seriously after being publicly shamed by GMB’s campaigning.
In May, VICE reported that a delivery driver in Indiana, US was fired for raising concerns about the company’s safety measures. Amazon spokesperson told VICE at the time: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon and our Delivery Service Partners have helped communities around the world in a way that very few can – delivering critical supplies directly to the doorsteps of people who need them.
“We made several adjustments to our processes during this time to protect our team and ensure operations, including package volume, were not adversely impacted. In fact, during this pandemic more than 70 percent of all delivery routes have ended more than 30 minutes early.”
In a video released on Thursday, Greek economist and politician Yanis Varoufakis urged people not to visit the site. “By boycotting Amazon you will be adding your strength to an international coalition of workers and activists,” he said in the clip. “Amazon is not a mere company. It is not merely a monopolistic mega-firm. It is far more, and far worse, than that. It is the pillar of a new techno-feudalism.”
Campaigners have also raised concerns about Amazon’s tax avoidance, its environmental impact and its privacy practices. In 2019, Bezos spent more money on his Beverley Hills mansion than he paid tax, while the carbon footprint of the company has increased 15 percent between then and 2020. Amazon has said that it pays “all taxes required in the UK and every country where we operate”.
In September, VICE also revealed that the company was using a programme to surveil its workers on Facebook. (Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment at the time, but confirmed the existence of the tool.)
“The time has come,” Rehman tells VICE, “for workers and communities to say loud and clear: there is nothing modern about exploitation."
When asked for comment on the Make Amazon Pay campaign, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told VICE: “This is a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who are using Amazon’s profile to further their individual causes. Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions dollars in taxes globally.”