Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos flew to the edge of space on Tuesday on a craft built by his private space company, Blue Origin. It was a bombastic inauguration of Bezos' entry into the emerging space tourism industry (one seat on New Shepard went for $28 million), and Bezos himself was giddy. In comments after he touched down, he aired visions of moving all heavy industry into space and thanked Amazon's more than one million employees and millions more customers for paying for his trip. Really.
"I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this," the grateful billionaire, who said the trip to space was his "best day ever," said to laughter from the audience. "Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It's very appreciated."
The comment immediately came under fire online, because Amazon is notorious for its treatment of workers, many of whom are funneled into backbreaking warehouse jobs that pay a bit more than Walmart or deliver packages while being instructed to drive recklessly to meet quotas.
Bezos is right that he owes everything to the workers he pushes to the absolute limit. There's a direct line between Amazon's sprawling logistics empire, its inhumane working conditions, and the wealth that has flowed into Bezos's coffers and was burned in the Blue Origin suborbital launch. Bezos was able to go to space because Amazon pushes workers so hard that they miscarry, pass out in heat waves, work ten-and-a-half-hour graveyard shifts called “megacycles,” piss in bottles and defecate in bags, and much more.
At Amazon, warehouse workers are told they are “industrial athletes” and supplied with bleak meditation booths instead of more manageable work. When the pain from working to physical exhaustion or pain is too great, they’re reminded that “endorphins are your friend.” Workers experience homelessness, cover-ups of workplace injuries and even death, as well as harassment from customers. In the same shareholder letter that Bezos claimed Amazon would be "Earth's Best Employer" and "Earth's Safest Place to Work,” the billionaire teased a new algorithm that would set worker schedules according to muscle use.
This only begins to list off some of the great number of indignities and harms Amazon and Bezos have visited on workers over the years, all to hoard enough capital to burn on a suborbital flight that lasted for some twelve-odd minutes. Of course he is thanking the workers—for letting him harm so many lives to pursue a whimsical dream he’s held since childhood, at no real cost to himself.