Billions of dollars fill Amazon’s coffers each year. Jeff Bezos only recently ceded his seat as the richest person on Earth to Elon Musk, and the company’s stock trades for upwards of three thousand dollars per share. With all of its resources, many have wondered, why doesn’t it treat its workers better? Warehouse conditions and job expectations treat staff members like glorified robots, allotting only two short breaks over eleven grueling hours of shifting packages from place to place. Their suppliers are pressured, their competitors quashed. With intentions of forcing change, a recent boycott, from March 7 to 13, sought to avoid making use of Amazon or its affiliate companies for an entire week. Although the boycott makes a noble stab at limiting Amazon’s scale and power, it is too scattered to make a real impact.
One main issue with the effectiveness of this boycott is simply Amazon’s massive scale. Audible; Goodreads; Whole Foods; Twitch; IMDb — even if we avoid shopping on the trillion-dollar company’s near-ubiquitous online marketplace, we still bump against Amazon’s far-reaching hand wherever we go: the list of Amazon’s subsidiaries stretches over 40 companies long. Therein lies the difficulty of the recent boycott on the tech giant and its affiliates: Amazon is too titanic to avoid, or to combat effectively.
Some try, however — the boycott sprung up in supposed support of the unionizing workers in Bessemer, Alabama, who have been lobbying against Amazon’s anti-union tactics for over a year.
The disjoint between the union organization and the boycott is a major factor limiting the usefulness of the two — some leading the workers in Bessemer say the solidarity of the boycotts is misguided, and possibly damaging. If, in an idealized scenario where all revenue of Amazon simply halts for a full week, they would be expected to suffer losses in the range of eight to nine billion dollars (extrapolated from Quarter 4’s earnings report) — even for a much less costly reality, that’s not just a drop in the bucket for the company. If this loss is blamed on those mobilizing in Alabama — who have already suffered under Amazon’s harshly anti-unionist tactics as they push to vote for their union — they will face more hardship. Even if all the boycott does is increase public support of the union, the razor’s edge that the workers walk between getting better jobs or being fired to cut costs could be thrown off balance.
If the boycott succeeds at getting a point across, so too will the countermovement, many of whom satirically employ the same hashtag as those in favor of it. Under the hashtag #boycottamazon, alongside tweets supporting the boycott we see tweets saying things like, “Just ordered new rug – no one can stop me from buying things!” These counter-arguments fight Amazon’s battles for them, and contribute to the tumult that has surrounded what could have been carried out in an orderly fashion. Even if the boycott succeeds at its job, this particular can of worms has already been opened, and the damage has already been done.
Despite the disorganized and often confused manner of this boycott, its point still stands: Amazon is too powerful a company to ignore, and so far, its power to exploit and control has only grown. The actions of individual people are helpful, but to combat such a giant requires something larger — action from within, as we have seen, or perhaps government intervention, which we have yet to observe on a large scale.