This article was published on August 15, 2015

Amazon may well be the most evil company in technology and Jeff Bezos should be ashamed

Amazon may well be the most evil company in technology and Jeff Bezos should be ashamed
Mic Wright
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Mic Wright

Reporter, TNW

Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy. Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy.

You are dying of cancer. You have just lost your unborn child. You have to care for your dying father. You are worthless. You are unproductive. Your colleagues hate you. They have reported you. You deserve to be fired.

Welcome to the Amazon way.

We have known for years that Amazon is a brutally Darwinian workplace. Anyone who has read ‘The Everything Store’ knows that. But in a newly-published New York Times (NYT) article, the almost unvarnished reality of its working conditions is sketched out in punishing detail.

All of those examples I used in the first paragraph are real. They are all things that have happened to Amazon employees. Here are some relevant paragraphs from the NYT piece:

 [A member of the Kindle team] began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends, her status changed. She was blocked from transferring to a less pressure-filled job, she said, and her boss told her she was “a problem.” As her father was dying, she took unpaid leave to care for him and never returned to Amazon.

…a woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”

…a woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired”

……a former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. “What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses.

Later in the piece, the NYT ponders the question of why Amazon has no female managers in its most senior leadership team. Is it that hard to see why? It appears quite clear that having a child or providing care to a family member is not and will not be valued.

On the basis of the management philosophy outlined in this article and many – though less brutal – examinations of Jeff Bezos’ vision for the company he founded, I don’t believe we should look at Amazon as a corporation at all. It is a cult that sells things. You either give up your life to it or are crushed by it.

Had L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, been starting out his manipulation project now, he would have invented Amazon. It has more casually and effectively embedded itself into our lives than any traditional cult ever could.

It has become almost impossible to avoid the monster’s influence – it has provoked addiction with its cheap goods and services, its tentacles have stretched across the entire internet, holding up so many of the biggest websites.

Think my cult comparison is hysterical? Try this quote from a recent Amazon recruitment video:

You either fit here or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

I’m not going to fillet the entire NYT piece. It is a powerful piece of journalism by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, you should read the whole thing.

The reporting has finally pushed me to the conclusion that I *cannot* in good conscience continue to support Amazon. I know my individual spending will make no discernible difference to the company’s bottom line, it’s a stone flung into an ocean, but I can’t support a company I now consider actively evil.

It is impossible to avoid the many websites it powers with Amazon Web Services, but I can reject its consumer offerings. 

To me, these revelations and confirmations are the canary in the coal mine, a huge indicator that the culture of tech disruption is going in the wrong direction. The dictatorial finger glued to the fast forward button is close to totalitarian. Fully realising that I have broken the glass and flipped the Godwin’s Law switch, it makes me think of Pastor Niemoller’s iconic poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

First it came for the booksellers and I did not speak out all that much. Then it came for the warehouse workers and I felt protected by my degree and benefits. Then it came for the white collar workers and I saw people like me. Finally, with Bezos owning The Washington Post and investing in Business Insider, it came for the journalists. Bezos has also suggested the practices he has put in place at Amazon should be replicated at media companies. I do not want to see that future come to pass.

Read the NYT article and you’ll discover that Amazon operates a feedback system that would give the East Germany’s (now-defunct) secret police, the Stasi, a massive hard-on. Employees are encouraged to snitch on each other.

It is not just dog eat dog but dog betray dog, dog kill dog, dog trample on dog to get to the higher kennel. It is capitalism at its most red in tooth and claw.

While Bezos’ own investments are looking at world changing projects – space travel, asteroid mining, health – Amazon is a company that sells things, be it cloud services or groceries, applications or physical books. It is changing the world as the tech industry hype men would have it, but not in ways that even remotely justify the institutionalized cruelty.

I have recently clashed with Calacanis over this article. I guess it’s time to fight with him again. Hard work is something I value. I come from a working class background that reveres it. Hard work is not about being denied rights. Hard work is not about being forced to choose between family and career to such an extreme extent that even death is not a valid excuse.

In pursuit of total domination, Amazon appears willing to be a meat grinder, crushing human beings as long as the growth continues, as long as the ‘disruption’ is driven forward.

Last month, Amazon hit a valuation of $250 billion. Forbes pegs Bezos as the fifth wealthiest person on the planet. If he believes in treating employees in the way the New York Times outlines, then regardless of all that money, he is morally bankrupt.

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace [NYT]

Read next: Tech is addicted to futuristic feudalism – we need to talk about the have-nots 

Image credit: Amazon/Time/M&C Saatchi. Mashup created by the author. 

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