A user on Twitter recently posed the question, “Is there a company you absolutely refuse to support for ethical reasons?”
It prompted nearly 3,000 responses. Walmart was frequently mentioned.
We also try to avoid shopping there given the company’s history of poorly treated and underpaid workers, many of whom rely on taxpayer-supported programs like food stamps and Medicaid while its owners rake in billions in tax breaks. Bernie Sanders has frequently and accurately pointed out, the Walton family makes more money in a single minute just from dividends paid on their family’s stock holdings than a Walmart employee does working full time in an entire year.
That’s before taking into account the destruction of Main Street, the mom-and-pop stores across small towns, when the giant sets up shop.
Surprisingly, far less frequently noted was Amazon, the retailer that now accounts for more than one-third of all online purchases. There are 142 million Prime members in the U.S, according to estimates by the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. And if you take a closer look at how Jeff Bezos’ creation has become so dominant, you’ll find practices that look a lot like — if not worse — than Walmart’s.
Alec MacGillis, an investigative reporter with ProPublica, exposes Amazon’s backstory and its impact on American cities in his new book, “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America.”
It’s not surprising to learn that warehouse jobs are dangerous and isolating, although the cover-ups in how accidents are reported and investigated are infuriating. It’s been reported before that delivery and factory workers will resort to urinating in bottles and defecating in bags to keep up with grueling schedules. One of Amazon’s social media employees recently tried to cast doubt on these accounts by asking why workers would continue to work in such conditions.
Well, it’s the same reason workers have stayed in difficult and underpaid jobs since the beginning of time — it beats starving when there are few other better opportunities. Amazon’s efforts to destroy union activity is proving as effective as Walmart’s.
But the truly shocking revelations in MacGillis’ work are the way public officials, local and state, have bent over backward — agreeing to secrecy and giving enormous tax breaks — to a company that reported a net income of $21.33 billion in 2020. It’s eye opening to read the ways Amazon has squashed local competition and consolidated its power through government contracts.
Jeff Bezos and the Waltons are billionaires cut from the same cloth. They know there will always be a market for the cheapest products, often imported from China, in a country where the middle class continues to lose economic ground.