Amazon warned at least two employees that future criticism of its environmental policy could result in firing due to violation of its external communications policy. Maren Costa, a user-experience designer, and Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer, told the Washington Post that the company is contributing to climate change as its cloud computing business aids oil- and gas-company exploration.
- Do employees have a moral responsibility to speak up on matters of critical importance like climate change, regardless of their employer’s attempts to censor them?
- Amazon says, “While our positions are carefully considered and deeply held, there is much room for healthy debate and differing opinions.” Is this contradictory? How would this work in practice given recent warnings of potential firings?
- With current government investigations and regulations of big tech, can public efforts to silence workers add to Amazon and their tech rivals’ troubles? How should companies respond to internal criticism and activist employees?
- Both employees are part of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which published a letter last April calling on the e-commerce giant to adopt a company-wide plan to address climate change. More than 8,700 employees signed the letter.
- In September, the employee group organized a walkout to pressure Amazon to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, among other demands. One day before the walkout, Amazon announced a “Climate Pledge” to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
- Amazon strongly disagreed with another demand, refusing to end its contracts between Amazon Web Services and oil and energy companies. Jeff Bezos said, “To ask oil and energy companies to do this transition with bad tools is not a good idea.”
Tech employees are organizing and publicly holding their employers to ethical standards over issues like corporate carbon emissions, using technology for warfare, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Both Amazon and Google have been accused of stifling worker’s feedback and cracking down on growing dissent among their rank and file employees.
Big tech companies are attempting to contain controversy and tamp down on internal dissent, but this may be having the opposite effect. According to several sources at Amazon, employees are continuing to organize and discuss Amazon’s climate policies on internal listservs, and many are publicly supporting the employees who have been reprimanded for speaking to the press. Some Google employees have alleged they were recently fired in retaliation for their public criticism of the company’s policies and their attempts to organize.
On January 2nd, Maren Costa spoke out again in a press release saying, “Now is a time when we need to have communications policies that let us speak honestly about our company’s role in the climate crisis. This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out.”
A better policy may be to improve internal communication and exchanges about important issues like climate change. Leaders need to engage more rather than threaten.