- It’s hard not to feel excited about the bargains to be had on Amazon Prime Day and pretty much any day on Amazon.
- But Amazon has also attracted vocal protests over its business practices.
- Is it a company you can feel good about supporting?
- Here’s a list of some of Amazon’s best contributions and some of the not-so-wonderful aspects about the online giant, so you can decide for yourself.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Amazon Prime Day is here and consumers worldwide are rubbing their hands together with delight at the potential bargains.
But some of us also have a niggling feeling about it, and about our use of Amazon in general. Is Amazon ultimately a worthy company, deserving of our support? Or is it an evil corporation, serving its own interests at the expense of the greater good?
The answer is, perhaps, not so simple.
We’ve assembled a list of 14 things Amazon is doing that may make you feel good about supporting the company and 8 things that could make you feel less good about giving Amazon your money.
In the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Amazon ranks tops for its reputation among consumers
Among the annual Harris poll which asks consumers to rank the reputations of corporations, Amazon always does well. In the 2019 survey of 18,228 Americans, Amazon landed the No 2 spot.
Amazon ranked No. 1 among market research company Morning Consult’s Most Loved Brands.
Consumers love Amazon. The company helps them find the goods they want (even obscure items) at the prices they want. And Amazon’s “customer obsession” means it tends to be good about things like returns and exchanges.
Back in 2016, Amazon vowed to hire 25,000 military veterans and spouses by 2021
Amazon wants to hire 25,000 military vets and their spouses over a five-year period.
In the company’s 2018 annual report CEO Jeff Bezos said the company “was well on its way” to filling that promise, though he failed to give an actual number.
One report said that Amazon had 17,500 veterans and military spouses on its payrolls, including part-time workers.
Many of these positions are among Amazon’s lowest-wage, hardest working warehouse employees. However, Amazon has also promised to give 10,000 of them access to its cloud computing certification program.
A cloud certification doesn’t mean they will work for Amazon’s high-paying cloud unit, but it could be a path to a better paying job elsewhere.
Amazon scored 100 on The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index
The index measures how well companies treat their LGBTQ employees and 100 is the highest score. It looked at areas like policies and benefits.
Amazon offers generous family paid leave for new parents
Amazon was ahead of the curve by offering a 20-week paid leave program back in 2015. This includes up to 4 weeks of pre-birth leave.
While other companies offer more time off, Amazon earned industry-wide kudos by letting parents donate up to six weeks of their paid leave to their partners.
It also offers six weeks paternity leave and a ramp-up period where new mums can job-share for a time when they return to work.
Amazon is donating to homeless charities
Amazon’s success has contributed to skyrocketing housing prices in its hometown of Seattle.
Amazon has been supporting homeless charities Mary’s Place and FareStart, including building a new homeless shelter and restaurant space, contributions it says are worth $US130 million.
Earlier this year, Amazon promised to donate up to $US13 million to organisations combatting homelessness in Seattle as well as its second HQ area, Arlington, Va., the company said.
It will donate $US5 million to the Seattle area, $US3 million to Arlington and then match up to $US5 million employee donations to a select number of non-profits.
CEO Jeff Bezos has also personally donated nearly $US1 billion to homeless organisations through his $US2 billion Day One Fund, a philanthropy fund that focuses on homelessness and education.
Amazon has helped its customers donate nearly $US135 million to charities through AmazonSmile
AmazonSmile is a site operated by Amazon which offers the same prices as the main site but where 5% of the money is donated to charity.
Amazon bills it as a “way for customers to support their favourite charity every time they shop with Amazon, at no extra cost.”
As of May, Amazon says Smile had raised nearly $US135 million for 1 million charity organisations.
The key to using it is to remember to go to smile.amazon.com, instead of amazon.com, and to set up your preferred charity via your Amazon account.
Amazon has a policy that restricts sales of harmful chemicals in its consumer products
Amazon has published a comprehensive list of responsible sourcing polices that it demands its suppliers uphold.
The policies forbid its suppliers to use child labour, slave labour, conflict minerals or to force its workers to be in unsafe conditions.
Amazon also published a list of harmful chemicals it is forbidding its private label suppliers to use, including things like parabens. This applies to Amazon brands of baby care and personal care products like shampoos and lotions.
Amazon has joined industry organisations to push for green beauty and personal care products. However Amazon didn’t say how it planned to enforce these policies, nor did it promise to publish updates on its progress.
Amazon is helping small businesses reach millions of customers.
Amazon allows just about any small business to sell its wares in its enormous ecommerce store, potentially instantly gaining access to millions of customers.
Amazon says that it sold $US160 billion of products from third parties in 2018.
These businesses can also pay to use Amazon’s warehouses, tapping into a mega distribution system they couldn’t afford to build on their own.
Amazon says that small and mid-sized businesses selling on Amazon have created an estimated 1.6 million jobs worldwide in 2018, up from 900,000 in 2017. There were 50,000 sellers who earned more than $US500,000 in 2018 and 25,000 who earned more than $US1 million.
And Amazon says there were more than 1,000 self-publishing authors who earned more than $US100,000.
Amazon has a team of people and two planes that donate disaster relief items worldwide
So far in 2019, Amazon’s disaster relief team responded to the tsunami in Indonesia, the snowstorm in Seattle, the tornadoes in Alabama/Georgia, and the cyclone in Mozambique.
The team helped with Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico, the Texas floods and other events by setting up pop-up tents and distributing needed items to people.
Amazon employees volunteer to pack the boxes. Items are donated by Amazon as well as by Amazon customers and include food, water, hygiene supplies, towels, blankets and other supplies.
Amazon is building dozens of wind and solar farms
Amazon has promised to use 100% renewable energy across its global infrastructure. And it has been building wind and solar farms to attempt to meet this promise.
In 2017, the company opened a massive wind farm in Texas, and it is developing three new wind farms in Ireland, Sweden, and the United States.
Amazon says it is supporting 53 wind and solar projects worldwide and installing solar systems on 50 of its warehouses by 2020.
In 2018, Amazon’s cloud computing business, AWS, got half of its energy needs from renewable energy usage.
Amazon has spearheaded a better way for startups and companies to buy technologies: cloud computing
Amazon has a business unit called Amazon Web Services of which Amazon, the retailer, is one of its largest customers. AWS helped spearhead the cloud computing revolution.
Thanks to cloud computing, everyone has access to supercomputing capabilities with just the swipe of a credit card, paying only for what they use.
Cloud computing has made it far easier and less expensive for startups to launch innovative products and for researchers to conduct important research such as discovering new drugs and supporting scientific climate change research.
Amazon has built an industry-changing voice-control system
Amazon Alexa isn’t the first voice assistant but it works so much better than previous iterations that it has drastically changed the way we interact with computers.
The sci-fi future of controlling our most powerful supercomputers with our voices is now closer than ever, thanks to the success of Alexa and the Amazon-made Echo smart speaker.
What’s more, tens of thousands of products, from ceiling fans to washing machines, now work with Alexa and let you control them with your voice.
Amazon is reinventing the retail store
Although Amazon is mostly an ecommerce site, it has begun to open up physical retail stores that are pushing the boundaries on technology, too.
Amazon Go is a grocery store that lets you load your cart and leave, automatically billing you. This is creating new technologies that combine things like facial and product recognition with transactions, like billing a credit card.
This, in turn, is pushing grocery competitors, like Kroger, to partner up with tech companies like Microsoft and upgrade their in-store technologies as well.
All this technology holds plenty of promise for consumers, though the increasing automation also could lead to fewer retail jobs.
Amazon has promised to train 100,000 workers for better tech jobs
Amazon employs roughly 650,000 people, and about 300,000 of them work on its retail side, many in low-paying, physically demanding warehouse jobs.
Amazon also employs about 200,000 robots in its warehouses and is supporting research that will create robots with better dexterity to grasp and carry objects (something that’s stumped researchers so far).
When that happens, Amazon almost certainly won’t employ tens of thousands of people to pick items off shelves anymore.
Instead of just shrugging off its workers’ futures entirely, in July, Amazon promised to “upskill” 100,000 of its employees for the technical roles it will have available. It has dedicated $US700 million to beef up a number of training programs. Not all of them are for warehouse workers, but some are.
This includes tuition assistance for job training for high-demand tech jobs outside of Amazon, like aircraft mechanics, medical technicians and nursing.
Amazon says its helped 25,000 employees get new jobs so far this way.
And now for the bad news …
Amazon is regularly accused of unfair work conditions in its warehouses
A number of warehouse workers have gone on strike during this Prime Day sales promotion period to bring attention to the way they are treated by Amazon.
While Amazon is patting itself on its back for raising their minimum wage to $US15 and equipping its workers with special vests so robots can see them and not run into them, that’s not the whole story. It also eliminated bonuses and stock grants for these workers.
Even some of Amazon’s own high-paid tech employees believe the work expectations for these people are unreasonable.
On top of that, Amazon has also pushed many of its third-party delivery drivers to the breaking point, as Business Insider previously reported.
And contract pilots have been protesting about their work conditions, too.
While the company makes a lot of grandiose promises for social good, it isn’t very transparent on its progress
It’s difficult to say how well the company keeps its promises on things like diversity, military hiring, supply chain policies and green initiatives.
The company doesn’t publish a comprehensive, annual Corporate Responsibility Report, something its investors have been pushing it to do.
Amazon was a zero when it came to Corporate Responsibility magazine’s ranking of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens
Amazon’s competitor and Seattle neighbour Microsoft is No. 6 on the list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. HP is No. 5, Apple is No. 95.
But Amazon? It didn’t make the list.
Greenpeace has accused Amazon Web Services of not holding its commitment to green energy.
Amazon said that in 2018, AWS relied on green energy for half its needs.
But Greenpeace points out that Amazon’s promise, made years ago, was to be 100% green across Amazon. As the company grows, it seems to be increasing its usage of non-renewable energy sources,Greenpeace claims.
Some Amazon employees have begun to publicly call for the company to offer a better plan. A group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have been demanding the company become a zero-emission company and to do so in a timeframe demanded by science.
They also want AWS to stop courting big oil and for Amazon to be more transparent about its progress.
Amazon says it is working on it. “We are on a path to becoming the most sustainable retailer and cloud provider in the world, and will release our carbon footprint later this year,” a spokesperson says.
Amazon has been accused of sparking the retail apocalypse
The rise of Amazon has come with the decline of brick-and-mortar retail stores, and the two phenomenons are very much related.
A think tank called Local Self-Reliance has been warning for years that Amazon is gaining a stranglehold on retail that it believes will hurt competition and erode jobs.
As retailers go out of business, small businesses feel they must use Amazon to sell their wares and Amazon charges them fees for selling, and for advertising.
Amazon has also been accused of competing with its sellers, taking some of the most popular products and making its own private label brands, pricing them cheaper and advertising next to competitors.
Amazon executives point out that this is what all private label retail brands do.
Amazon’s facial recognition technology, sold to governments, has come under fire
Amazon sells it to law enforcement agencies. Protesters want it to stop those sales over concerns that its error rates with minorities are too high and could misidentify people of colour (a charge Amazon denies).
Amazon is among the tech companies involved in crafting government regulations that would regulate facial recognition technology (along with Microsoft and Google).
Amazon doesn’t pay much in federal taxes
Amazon is able to take advantage of so many tax breaks, and its effective federal tax rate was zilch last year even though it generated $US11 billion in revenue.
Amazon even received a $US129 million tax rebate from the federal government, mostly thanks to the Republican tax overhaul of 2017,CNBC reported.
The company gets to deduct carryforward losses from those years when the company was in the red; it gets tax credits for massive investments in R&D and its gets breaks for stock-based employee compensation.
But some of its tax breaks are eye-popping.
For instance, the state of Virginia has designated some land for Amazon’s data-center hub as an “opportunity zone,” which qualifies for federal tax breaks.
That break was intended to help real estate redevelopment in depressed economic areas. But this spot is in one of the most well-to-do counties in the state.
Amazon has become the target of immigration policy protesters
Amazon has attracted a growing number of protesters who believe the company is helping the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) execute its policies at the southern border.
The line to Amazon is not direct: protesters believe that ICE’s IT systems are from a tech company called Palantir and that Palantir is an AWS customer.
However, Amazon did meet with ICE officials to pitch sales of its facial recognition tech and other AWS services, as revealed by emails between Amazon and various government officials obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation.
Amazon employees are ramping up their protests internally, too, with a group of them sending a second letter demanding the company take a stand against family separation and vow not to support it.
An Amazon spokesperson sent a statement saying that those who buy and use AI tech should do so “responsibly and lawfully” and that the company has “provided a proposed legislative framework” to govern AI use.
The upshot is … mixed
So if you feel conflicted about supporting Amazon during Prime Day and the rest of the year, you aren’t alone.
CSRHub, an organisation that rates the corporate responsibility of over 17,000 companies, gives Amazon a score of 48 out of 100. That’s a pretty mediocre score, just one-point shy of an acceptable rating (over 50) and well short of good one (60-79) or a great one (80-100).