A few months ago I took a deep dive into Amazon’s ethics, which you can read here. It was a lengthy process that didn’t come out in their favour, spanning several areas of their workforce and internal processes.
But, despite the hours I spent, that wasn’t the full extent of it. The piece was written before I learned how Amazon technology props up ICE raids, or allows the sale of white supremacist and neo-nazi books. It was before the arguments over its alleged ties to white supremacist hotbed 8chan came out (Amazon has disputed some of these claims so it’s a little difficult to know the full truth here). It was even before I did the research and learned just how unwilling Jeff Bezos is to use any of his money to help people or pay his taxes. So, yeah, it’s pretty bad.
In general, the response I get to this information is people asking what, if anything, they can do to change things. Many of the responses I give are focused on supporting systemic change: namely better tax policy and policy in general, breaking up big tech, supporting unions, and supporting libraries. Most of these changes play out in the political arena, either through our voting choices, our activism choices, or our donation choices. But it’s hard to find individual, actionable choices that we can make today that could make a difference.
That is set to change, however, with a new approach to boycotting that is aiming to get Amazon’s attention. That movement is Threshold.
Threshold isn’t a conventional boycott. In a normal boycott, you stop buying from a company because it goes against your principles, but you also don’t have a guarantee of any outcome. The idea of a Threshold campaign is to say:
I’d do it if there were enough people to have an impact; let me know when we reach the goal and I’ll quit with everyone else.
This idea is based on the 3.5% rule. After reviewing 100 years of resistance movements across the globe, Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth found that peaceful resistance was twice as effective as armed aggression. More critically, Chenoweth also found that in every single case where the movement mobilised 3.5% of the population, it succeeded.
So the idea is to mobilise the masses behind something achievable, in order to once again create change.
If you love Amazon Prime and don’t want to give it up unless it will actually make a difference, this tool is for you.
If you want to use collective purchasing power to compel Amazon to be a great corporate citizen, this tool is for you.
If you believe that a company as big and powerful as Amazon needs a watchdog, this campaign is for you.
If you’re tired of signing petitions that don’t seem to do anything, Threshold is for you.
Threshold isn’t asking you to boycott right now, it’s asking you to pledge to boycott as part of a larger movement. There are three pledges you can take: to cancel your Prime account, to not shop at Amazon, and to not shop at Whole Foods. Threshold has a live counter of people signed up to participate, once critical mass is reached, only then will everyone be asked to follow through on their pledge. This means that, similar to a strike, your voice will actively be counted and noticed as a detriment to Amazon’s business dealings. Critical mass is currently 1 million pledges, each of the three pledges counts as its own individual pledge because each carries its own potential inconveniences for the pledger and impact for Amazon. 1 million pledges represents around $1 billion in lost revenue per year, an amount large enough to get Amazon and the media to notice.
If you’ve already stopped doing business with Amazon, as I have, you can still make the three pledges to be counted as part of the larger number, and Threshold are working on a way for you to let them know that you’ve quit. If Amazon doesn’t respond to the group’s demands they keep building to the next threshold of 2 million, and so on until change is achieved.
So what are the group’s demands?
Unlike a boycott with a singular request, Threshold is asking Amazon to look at a wide range of questionable practices, some of which I’ve covered before, all of which suggest that Amazon isn’t fit to hold such a huge monopoly in our current world.
Their demands are as follows:
Pay your taxes
Support EU and global efforts to coordinate taxes of tech giants and pay a fair share of taxes on worldwide income.
Stop seeking local subsidies
Amazon has received more than $1.5 billion in local tax breaks since 2000 and gained market share by avoiding sales taxes.
Pay all employees a living wage
While Amazon has recently moved to increase their minimum wage to $15/hour, this is still not enough for many of its employees. In 2017, the United States living wage was $16/hour on average, but in areas with higher costs it was as much as $24. Amazon should be paying wages that boost quality of life and health for workers, including offering employees family and disability leave, health and dental insurance, paid vacations, and pension plans, rather than offering temporary contracts.
Create humane working conditions
For both blue and white-collar employees, in every country, because all are mistreated by Amazon. Amazon should instead aim to be one of the top ten best places to work in America by 2020.
Let employees unionise
Encourage workers to whistle-blow on unsafe conditions, remain neutral in any union organising drives. Unionising is the surest way for employees to be treated fairly and humanely.
Diversify leadership and democratise lobbying
Of the company’s 18 most powerful executives, 17 are men. Among lower levels, 74% of Amazon executives are white men. Of Jeff Bezos’ 10 direct reports only one is female and all are white. Currently, 9 of 11 directors on Amazon’s board are white.
Change corporate bylaws to proscribe that workers elect 40% of the membership of the board of directors. Corporate political activity should be authorised specifically by both 75% of shareholders and 75% of board members.
Stop selling surveillance technology
Drop Rekognition, the facial recognition software being used by police departments for mass surveillance. This technology is a direct and immediate threat to people of colour, immigrants, activists and other vulnerable populations that are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
Stop supporting the persecution of immigrants
Stop selling AWS cloud services to data analytics firm Palantir, who is involved in the operation of ICE’s detention and deportation programs.
Treat authors, artists, vendors and 3rd party sellers better
Crack down on counterfeiting; don’t allow returns of e-books; make it easy for creatives to get their infringed work removed from the marketplace; hire an ombudsman for disputes; improve transparency around account reviews; allow manufacturers to prohibit their products from being sold on your platform by Amazon itself or by 3rd party sellers; stop copying vendors’ designs.
Ship ecologically and get rid of plastic
Use the correct size box and find alternatives to non-biodegradable plastic. Develop transparent indicators, sharing best practices with the industry and disclosing ecological impacts of shipping choices to customers during checkout. Pilot electric vehicle delivery in the top fifteen most polluted U.S. cities by 2020, make 100% of shipping carbon-neutral by 2021, and go all-electric in the delivery fleet by 2025.
Stop selling single use plastics by 2020. Replace oil-based plastics in all Amazon-manufactured products with plastics made from recycled materials by 2020. If Ikea can, Amazon can too.
Become a model energy steward
Disclose energy use of data centres, become more transparent about sustainability and aspire to earn an “A” on Greenpeace’s electronics report card in 2019. Amazon received an “F” in 2017 and “remains one of the least transparent companies in the world in terms of its environmental performance.” Use 100% renewable energy for all data centres, fulfilment centres and retail locations by 2020. Make all operations fossil-fuel-free by 2029.
Clean up the supply chain
Audit the entire supply chain annually, report results and engage external organisations and multiple stakeholders, including workers, to monitor and improve supply chain practices. Develop a transparent plan to deal with chronic difficult issues such as whistleblower retaliation, living wages, and freedom of association. Attain Apple’s high level of commitment to conflict mineral sourcing by the end of 2019.
Support an independent logistics certification. Amazon isn’t the only company with brutal warehouse conditions, environmentally harmful shipping practices and abusive relationships with drivers and other employees—just the biggest. Use that size and power to lead the creation of an independent, industry-wide certification body to raise the bar and compel every e-commerce company to do much better.
Stop profiting from hate
Stop enabling the spread of violent ideologies by allowing the sale of white supremacist and white nationalist propaganda through Amazon.
Stop advertising on Breitbart.
Stop broadcasting NRA TV, home to the NRA’s most dangerous and violence-inciting content.
Support net neutrality
Lobby for it at the state and federal level and deny services to any ISPs that take advantage of any rules weakening it.
Do right with HQ2
Fulfil Good Jobs First and The Institute for Local Self Reliance’s comprehensive list of second headquarters requests – from how employees are treated and paying taxes to dealing with transportation, housing and small businesses – all beneath an umbrella of accountability and transparency.
Also, share the data. In the contest to secure HQ2, dozens of cities have shared reams of data with Amazon that their own citizens and Amazon’s competitors do not have access to. This includes intel on future infrastructure investments, land use patterns, planned policy changes, and more. Sunlight this data.
Split up into at least three separate companies. Preempt lawmakers and regulators by peeling off Amazon Web Services and dividing Amazon the manufacturer from Amazon the e-commerce platform from Amazon the logistics company from Amazon the third-party marketplace. License Amazon technology so any competitor can set up a Kindle store to sell e-books.
Stop below-cost selling designed to drive competitors out of business or compel them to be acquired by Amazon. Play fair: Amazon is large and competitive enough without needing to take over companies that don’t want to be bought.
Transform into an inspiring, shining light of ethics and corporate citizenship
Seek to do well by ALL stakeholders, not just customers and shareholders. You won capitalism! Now win at caring for people, the planet and the future.
Become a certified B-corp and invite a rebel capitalist and a rebel changemaker to the board. Have all executives read the report Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities. Take a step back and organise around becoming a truly ethical group of companies that deserve a place in the centre of American life and commerce.
Why does this matter?
Whether we like it or not, Amazon’s sheer size and dominance is a threat to us all. As it keeps raking in money and refusing to pay taxes, exploiting workers to the point of serious illness and death, and shifting costs onto governments instead of itself, it’s poised to hurt scores of people, and the planet, in some way or another.
We talk often in the sustainability space about how it is impossible to be truly, 100% sustainable. That is because we exist within systems that are inherently exploitative that can be near impossible to break free from. As Amazon continues to extend its reach, it makes it harder and harder to live ethically. At the same time, it holds the power and the money to radically transform the systems it touches, to create a fairer place for all. It is not unfair to ask it to do this, and mass action is the most efficient way to do the asking.
The list of demands that Threshold has created may seem long, but it is also fair. Many people have accepted the exploitation within Amazon’s system because they don’t realise that it doesn’t have to be that way. It is within our power as citizens and customers to band together and refuse to do business with the company as it currently operates because it absolutely does not have to be this way. Amazon has chosen to behave the way it does, we can choose to reject that and demand a better deal.
If we truly believe in consumer power, this is the way to exercise it to create a better world.