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Here’s why some activists and shoppers are calling for Amazon Prime Day boycotts

Reportedly poor labor practices and ties to anti-immigration policy have spurred calls for avoiding the retail giant on its biggest shopping holiday.

Protestors march to a building where Amazon owner Jeff Bezos owns property on July 15, 2019 in New York City. The protest, raising awareness of Amazon facilitating ICE surveillance efforts, coincides with Amazon’s Prime Day.
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Amazon Prime Day continues, and many consumers and labor organizers are advocating for an Amazon boycott in solidarity with warehouse worker strikes mounted in five countries, calling out the mega-retailer’s working conditions and company practices. The sales event is typically the company’s biggest moneymaker; last year’s Prime Day amassed $4 billion in sales for Amazon, and this year is the first time it spans two days.

The charge to boycott appeared on Twitter ahead of Prime Day’s kickoff Monday, with hashtags #BoycottAmazon, #AmazonStrike, and #PrimeDayStrike trending, and retweeted images of the iconic Amazon package set against a pale blue backdrop appearing on timelines.

“It’s Strike Day!” reads the image’s headline, over a grey-shaded text box: “Boycott Amazon today!” Labor unions like California Labor Federation appealed to Amazon shoppers, “Stand with workers and do not cross the digital picket line!”

Crossing the digital picket line is particularly complicated, however, when the corporation in question is a monolith. Amazon owns a host of other companies, including Audible, Goodreads, IMDB, Kindle, Twitch, Whole Foods, and Zappos, making it, as Business Insider put it, somewhat “boycott-proof.” Prime’s reach in and of itself is long: Amazon boasts more than 101 million Prime members in the US.

Still, organizations like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — the largest federation of unions in the US — think it’s worth a shot. “Before you rush out and start shopping and filling that cart, I hope you’ll take a minute to think about the working people who are working behind the scenes to make those deliveries happen today,” said Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, as reported by the Hill. “Show Amazon that Prime Day is not just for shopping, it’s for respecting the rights of work.”

One big reason for the boycott is labor conditions and workers’ rights

As Bloomberg reported last week, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, planned to strike for six hours across two shifts on Monday, an organizational first for US Amazon employees, spurred in part by what they call unreasonable productivity demands wrought by one-day shipping. Meanwhile in Europe, warehouse workers in Germany went on strike, and workers in the UK, Spain, and Poland picketed, over poor conditions and low pay. “While Amazon throws huge discounts to its customers on Prime Day, employees lack a living wage,” German union Verdi said in a statement, reported by CNN.

In a statement provided to Vox, Amazon said that those protesting in the US “are simply not informed.” Added Amazon Monday night, “Roughly 15 associates participated in the event outside of the Shakopee fulfillment center. It was obvious to the 1500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention.” Amazon did not comment on the consumer boycotts.

Reports of grueling conditions at what the New York Times dubbed a “bruising workplace” have dogged the $800 billion e-commerce Goliath for the past several years. Long hours of physically demanding labor in overheated factories are reported to breed exhaustion, dehydration and workplace injuries. Bathroom breaks are timed, and so is “efficiency,” aka the time it takes for an employee to fill an order, as covered by the 2014 CNBC documentary Amazon Rising. Warehouse workers who fail to “make rate” are automatically fired, reports The Verge.

Amazon’s move earlier this year from two-day to one-day shipping for Prime customers exacerbates existing issues for Amazon’s 250,000 warehouse workers in the US alone. “Amazon is going to be telling one story about itself, which is they can ship a Kindle to your house in one day, isn’t that wonderful,” Shakopee employee and strike organizer William Stolz told Bloomberg last week. “We want to take the opportunity to talk about what it takes to make that work happen and put pressure on Amazon to protect us and provide safe, reliable jobs.”

Amazon’s connection with the Department of Homeland Security is another reason for boycotts

It’s not just Amazon employees who are marking Amazon’s “parade of epic deals” with protests: Activists assembled Monday outside Amazon offices in San Francisco, Seattle, and CEO Jeff Bezos’s Manhattan condo to protest workers’ rights and the corporation’s ties to the Department of Homeland Security’s anti-immigration policies.

Activists marching in New York delivered a petition 270,000 signers strong to Bezos’s home that cited both the mistreatment of warehouse workers, and Amazon’s facial recognition technology used by the US government to track immigrants. “It has to stop its monopoly power and abuses,” says Kung Feng, executive director of Jobs with Justice San Francisco, of Amazon, as reported by Newsweek.

The Washington Post broke the story last week that Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI used facial recognition software to scan millions of state driver’s licenses as part of the Trump administration’s directive to hunt down immigrants. And as the Guardian reports, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — ICE’s overseeing agency — uses Amazon technology as part of that effort: some databases used to target immigrants are hosted by Amazon Web Services.

“Boycotting Amazon is not enough,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of New York-based labor and community organization ALIGN, as reported by The Guardian. “We must demand this corporation change the ways in which it is functioning in our country and in the world. [...] Consumers have a very important role to play here.”

There are other reasons to boycott Amazon besides labor practices and complicity in the detainment and deportation of immigrants, say critics. Climate change is one: Nonprofit Threshold lists the introduction of eco-friendly shipping, nixing plastic, and using renewable energy among its demands within its Cancel Prime campaign, calling for action a step beyond a boycott.

Another reason to boycott, say indie booksellers: to support small businesses instead. “Go to your local independent bookshop and browse, have a conversation, buy a book,” tweeted San Francisco’s City Lights Books, adding a parenthetical, “(hopefully if you follow us you wouldn’t even consider shopping for books on Amazon).”

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