Amazon is everywhere. You can’t avoid it. It began in the 90s as a humble company in Seattle selling books and videos. The benefits of an online shop is that you can search, get exactly what you want often for a cheaper price than in store, you don’t have to go anywhere, and there’s a larger selection because there is more space in a warehouse than a shop. Sounds great, right? In 2015, the online retail giant surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in America.
It wasn’t until recent years that the dark side of Amazon was brought to public attention. You could see it early on with them buying out other companies so there’s less competition. Now it’s a full blown empire. Amazon own Whole Foods, The Washington Post, Audible, IMDb, GoodReads, Twitch, AbeBooks, ShopBop, and more! You can’t avoid them. The company is too big to avoid. It’s like trying to avoid Nestle in the grocery store or Disney in media or L’Oreal in cosmetics. These big parent companies own a lot of smaller companies.
In addition to their empire status, the way they treat their warehouse workers is deplorable. Workers are paid poorly, feel forced to skip bathroom breaks, are given unreasonable quotas called “rate”, the company has patented a technology that tracks workers moves, and when warehouse workers got $15/hour minimum they had to give up stock options and bonuses. It’s no wonder people call capitalism slavery and say workers are wage slaves. You’re not free when you have no choice but to work to survive.
While these workers who are integral to the success of Amazon and keep it moving are toiling away in horrible conditions, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the history of the world, making about $150,000 in a minute! Who needs that kind of money? Many generations of his descendants won’t have to work a day in their lives.
Yesterday, I was browsing Twitter and I saw that musicians are calling for an Amazon boycott. As part of Amazon’s PR strategy, they have festivals like Intersect by AWS, described as an event where “music, technology, and art converge”. Prominent musicians like Beck, Foo Fighters, Kacey Musgraves, Toro y Moi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Weyes Blood are listed on the lineup. Besides music, they’re going to have dodgeball, a giant ball pit, interactive games, a light show, and world class food.
What are the issues? Why are musicians calling for a boycott? What can we fans do?
The issues & Why a Boycott
Hundreds of musicians have signed this petition called “No Music for ICE”. What do Amazon have to do with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? Amazon do work with the government and Amazon Web Services, one of their affiliates, works with ICE, law enforcement, and the military. They must be held accountable for this.
Amazon have sold facial recognition software to law enforcement. A huge violation of privacy and it encourages racial profiling and aids deportations. A poignant quote from the article:
“The employees (it’s not clear how many signed the letter) refer to the sale of computer services by IBM to the Nazis as a worrying parallel. ‘IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late,’ says the letter. ‘We will not let that happen again.’”
Musicians feel like Amazon are taking advantage of them to look more progressive, hip, and have a better image.
This is the main issue for the boycott, but there are many other controversies with Amazon: its environmental impact, labour issues (as I discussed earlier), not paying their fair share of taxes, conflicts of interest with the CIA and Department of Defence, and them taking advantage of corporate welfare to build new headquarters and gentrify cities and push poor people out of their homes. This article in The Guardian about why the author is boycotting Amazon lists even more controversies.
What can we do?
Tweet at the musicians who are set to play the Intersect festival and comment on their social media letting them know what you think. Make it known that you’re not okay with them playing the festival and how it supports Amazon’s oppression of immigrants, minorities, and workers. It can work! One DJ, The Black Madonna, pulled out of the festival. She said she wasn’t aware that this was an event organised by Amazon and decided that it’s worth burning a bridge to no longer be involved with the festival.
Keep in mind that the musicians may not have much control over which festivals they play, they may not have much knowledge about it, so always be kind and compassionate. Some people might find it’s not enough to refuse to play the festival, you should also pull your work from Amazon. I think that could potentially make a bigger impact, however it could cost musicians sales.
Musicians (especially ones who are signed to a label) also may not have much control over where their music is sold; that could be up to their record label. If musicians can’t pull their music off Amazon, they could pull a Grace Slick (whose music was used in a Chick-Fil-A ad and she donated what she made from it to an LGBT charity) and donate money to a charity.
Independent musicians may have control though, but there are reasons why they might want to keep their music on Amazon and we’ll get to that in the next section.
Why it’s hard to boycott Amazon
Amazon own a lot of companies and it’s hard to boycott them or any other conglomerate entirely. Amazon are often the cheapest and most convenient option and those who don’t have a lot of money may have no other option and spending more money to avoid Amazon isn’t worth going into debt. Like a lot of people, my husband and I live paycheque to paycheque, so I’m always looking for a bargain and comparison shopping and if the cheapest option is Amazon, so be it. I’ll have to plug my nose and purchase what I need to buy.
The decision to boycott or not to boycott is complicated. Maybe the answer is unionising workers, because I can’t see Amazon and Walmart going away. Workers need to organise. They deserve better.
Cheap products and services come at a cost, and that means that someone along the line is being exploited. Outsourcing to overseas workers and underpaying them. Taking advantage of the resources of developing countries and not fairly paying people there. Workers being classified as contractors and being paid less than minimum wage and receiving no benefits. Stringing along temporary employees, claiming they will be a full employee eventually and never following through, having them quit in frustration. Employees being scheduled only 39 hours so the employer doesn’t have to pay full time benefits. Speaking of benefits, I guess for the consumers that means we can get a cheap Uber ride, cheap clothing, cheap consumer goods, but at the cost of cruelty to humans. You got to be in a privileged position to be able to boycott these big companies.
If you can afford to boycott Amazon, do it. Cancel your Prime subscription. If all you can do is shop at Amazon less, do it. Write to your politicians and vote for those who will fight for the average people and won’t take money from corporations, those things are free.
The other thing to consider is that other shops that you may buy from also treat their employees poorly, but don’t get as much press for that as Amazon. At the end of the day, do Target really treat their workers that much better than Walmart? People say there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, but does that mean that we should all embrace Amazon and fast fashion and not even bother trying to make better choices when we can? I may be broke, but I try to support independent businesses when I can: vintage shops, locally owned restaurants, market stalls.
You can find more information about this issue by following @nomusicforice on Twitter.
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