The Amazon Christmas ads showing smiley boxes heading to homes around the world could easily be the start of a Doctor Who story about an invasion of carnivorous cardboard aliens. But the greater fiction is that the commercials feature none of the conditions that, according to an investigation by the GMB union, led to 600 ambulance visits to British Amazon facilities and 602 reports to the Health and Safety Executive in the past three years, following issues including electric shocks, bleeding and trauma. Nor do the TV spots show any signs of the Black Friday walkouts by warehouse workers across Europe this year.
Amazon is the UK’s fifth biggest retailer, beaten back only by the big four supermarkets, and will creep up that league table as it moves further into selling groceries and other essential items. In the US, 76% of Americans who make online purchases said they’re planning to do most of their Christmas shopping with Amazon. Beyond its growing dominance in the consumer realm, Amazon’s Web Services business accounts for almost 45% of the world’s cloud-computing.
With all that said, what effect do consumer boycotts have on Amazon? The Guardian reports today on a growing number of individuals in the US who say they’re rejecting the retailer. Their reasons range from working conditions to the company continuing to carry the National Rifle Association’s TV station via its Prime Video platform and the availability of white supremacist products on its website. While people opting to make a stand is laudable, their actions are the equivalent of mosquitos biting the hide of a vast elephant –– Amazon barely notices.
Amazon Prime — which passed 100 million members in April 2018 — is one of the main reasons it’s so hard for boycotts and consumer action to have a serious effect on the company. Amazon has turned itself from a simple retailer into a utility for many of its customers. You might as well call on them to boycott water as to ask them to ditch the convenience of having what want delivered swiftly straight to their home. Through predatory pricing and drawing other retailers within the walls of its platform, Amazon has become almost unassailable.
Of course, you shouldn’t shop with Amazon if you disagree with the way it treats its staff, but to truly have an effect on its corporate behaviour, we need to put pressure on politicians to legislate to protect workers’ rights. While plenty of people will perform their disgust about the way Amazon behaves, in the relative privacy of their internet browsers, they’ll still head to Amazon. Look the disconnect in the behaviour of a lot of people who profess their love for old-fashioned book shops but head to Amazon to get a better price.
Brief boycotts of Amazon have been happening for years but that tyranny of convenience has always undermined them. Amazon is like a tick dug deep into our collective flesh. To change Amazon’s behaviour, we have to agitate to change the environment it operates in and force it to evolve a different way. Relying on consumers to reject ease won’t do that. Forcing governments to protect workers and smaller business can.