Hundreds of Amazon employees speak out on business practices - Activate World

Hundreds of Amazon employees speak out on business practices

More than 350 Amazon employees violated the company’s communications policy Sunday by publishing support for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice – colleagues who were warned they could be fired for publicly criticizing the company’s climate practices. The quotes were published on Medium with workers’ names, in a show of solidarity. 

Lunchtime conversations:

  • In addition to submitting questions during all-hands meetings, what actions could foster authentic dialogue between management and workers to reach amicable climate solutions? 
  • Amazon has 14 leadership principles intended to guide decision-making including, “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit,” in which workers are encouraged to argue their convictions, “even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.” How are Amazon leaders demonstrating this principle on this issue? 
  • How can CEOs and business leaders better engage employee activism?

Noteworthy:

  • Scott Ogle, a queue management analyst, wrote in the Medium post, “Amazon’s role in the climate crisis is staggering and alarming. While the company has publicly announced measures to reduce emissions and impacts in the coming years, it does not add up with its ongoing support to oil and gas industries and its efforts to silence employees who speak out. I stand with fellow employees who prioritize sustainability over profits.”
  • Not all of the employee statements were critical of Amazon’s outside communications policy. One worker said it prohibited her from sharing positive opinions with the press. And several Amazon employees who participated in Sunday’s Medium post commended the company’s recent environmental efforts.
  • “Corporations cannot own the conversation that threatens our very existence,” wrote Maren Costa, a principal user experience designer at Amazon. “We can’t be silent about issues that harm our children, communities, and planet.” 

Viewpoint: 

Amazon employees have become increasingly critical of the company’s expansion of its business with major oil and gas companies, its marketing of controversial facial recognition software to police departments, and its bidding on a major US defense contract that would use Amazon’s technology for warfare. Sunday’s action is the latest sign of rank-and-file employees at tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, organizing collectively for greater influence on major company decisions.

An Amazon spokesperson sent the following statement to Recode about workers’ organizing: “We know our employees are passionate about climate change, we are too – we founded the Climate Pledge, committing to net zero carbon by 2040, which is ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement, and we plan to be using 100% renewable energy by 2030.”

The protest Sunday follows a threat to fire two workers who spoke out about the company’s environmental policies in October. Maren Costa, a principal user-experience designer at the company, and Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer, told The Washington Post in a joint statement that the company is contributing to climate change as its cloud-computing business aids exploration by oil and gas companies.

This led to meetings between Costa and Kowalski with Amazon’s human resources staff with both receiving letters in November from a lawyer in the department discouraging violations of Amazon’s communications policies. The letter to Costa warned that future infractions could “result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon.”

Rather than back down, the activist employees are stepping up pressure on their employer. The employee group aims to fight Amazon’s communications policy in numbers so large that retaliating against everyone would make it challenging to conduct business.“The idea is to intentionally break the communications policy so prolifically that it is unenforceable,” the group wrote in an email to colleagues soliciting policy-breaking quotes.

The challenge is that Amazon has invested significantly in recruiting and training its workforce, and they are valuable assets. Even though the workers speaking out account for a small fraction of Amazon’s total workforce of 750,000, including warehouse workers, they would be costly to replace. 

Members of the climate group say speaking up about important issues, even if it means disagreeing with senior leaders, is an ingrained part of Amazon’s corporate culture. Its included in Amazon’s 14 leadership principles intended to guide decision-making at the company. Given the recent actions by Amazon’s leaders, the culture is changing, and this may have serious implications for employee retention and recruitment. 

Sources:CNBCVox-RecodeThe Washington PostWired

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash