A former Amazon employee who has been protesting outside the company’s Seattle headquarters for nearly three weeks, plans to begin a hunger strike tomorrow. He says his goal is to raise awareness about Amazon’s “poor employee treatment, low ethical standards, and an abysmal environmental record.”
Kivin Varghese sued Amazon for wrongful termination in 2012 after working for the company for seven months. Although he won part of his case in July 2013 — Amazon waived enforcement of an 18-month non-compete obligation and granted him all rights to a patent application he’d filed — the trial for the second part of the suit is scheduled for March 2015.
An Amazon spokesperson says Varghese’s case has never been about treatment of other employees, customers or the environment and that he is raising new issues in an effort to get media attention.
Here’s the full statement Business Insider recieved:
“Mr. Varghese was employed by Amazon for seven months in 2012 and was terminated for poor performance. Since his termination, Mr. Varghese has hired two different sets of lawyers and filed a lawsuit that seeks many millions of dollars of damages from Amazon. He has been aggressively litigating his claims since 2012. While we do not comment on active litigation and won’t do so here, this case has never been about treatment of other employees, customers or the environment — issues he first raised less than three weeks ago in an effort to get media attention. This case is about Mr. Varghese’s own termination and Amazon’s refusal to pay his monetary demands. Trial is set for March 23, 2015.”
Varghese told Business Insider that he originally started his protest on November 5 because he became frustrated by the drawn-out legal process and wants to draw attention to his case (read more about his original lawsuit and allegations here). Since the protest began, he has expanded his protest — and the forthcoming hunger strike — to include new complaints against Amazon, like broader working condition and environmental issues. (In 2013, Greenpeace gave Amazon an “F” grade renewable energy use and advocacy, but earlier this month, Amazon committed to work towards running cloud services on 100% renewable energy.)
Varghese tells Business Insider that he has decided to escalate to a hunger strike after being moved by the response he’s gotten from other Amazon employees.
“I’ve heard from so many by email and calls from across the country and on campus,” he says. “The stories that they tell me are just awful, of the way that they’re treated. Even though I have an issue with how Amazon treated me, this has become much bigger than just my issue.”
Varghese chose to start his hunger strike tomorrow as online shopping starts ramping up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with the goal of trying to convince “even one per cent” of Amazon shoppers to take their business elsewhere, either by buying locally or choosing other e-tailers. He will stop eating at 7 a.m. tomorrow and will keep going until “the end,” which he says means until he either ends up in the hospital, gets arrested, or gets a response from Amazon with a proposal about how to fix the issues he’s highlighting. He admits that his idea might sound “crazy.”
“All I know is, I need to do the best I can to try to get things to change,” he says. “I know it’s going to be a huge uphill battle. I’m going to be sitting out there alone on the sidewalk on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. But I’m hoping that my story will make people reconsider their buying for the holiday season.”
Varghese is the only one protesting outside Amazon’s headquarters but a petition he wrote has recieved 414 signatures (with a goal of 20,000).
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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