Date: May 12, 2020
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Amazon Coronavirus Response: 3 Things to Know
Amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has found itself in the spotlight.
Discontent among Amazon’s white-collar workforce boiled over this week with a longtime VP quitting in dismay over the company’s worker treatment during the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, top House lawmakers are keeping the heat on Amazon and not letting the pandemic disrupt their probe of tech giants, and antitrust experts take aim at the company’s weak defenses of its anti-competitive behavior in promoting its private label products.
Below is a wrap-up of some of the most notable coverage on these topics from the past week.
Former Amazon exec Tim Bray slammed the “vein of toxicity running through the company” in a fiery public resignation.
“Mr. Bray, who had worked for the company for more than five years, called the fired workers whistle-blowers, and said that firing them was ‘evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.’” (The New York Times, An Amazon Vice President Quit Over Firings of Employees Who Protested, May 4)
“Writing on his personal blog, Tim Bray said that remaining in his job ‘would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised.’ He said his last day at the company was May 1. ‘I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19,’ he wrote.” (Business Insider, Longtime Amazon VP Tim Bray just quit in dismay, calling the company ‘chickens—‘ for firing workers who criticized it, May 4)
“‘The big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential,’ he wrote, adding that it was the nature of 21st century capitalism.” (The Verge, Amazon VP quits over whistleblower firings in scathing blog post, May 4)
Lawmakers are keeping Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos in the hot seat as their investigations into Big Tech move towards final stages.
“Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, told Politico in an interview published Thursday that he expects the CEOs of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook to appear before his subcommittee for an ongoing investigation into potential monopolistic practices. ‘The only CEO who has expressed reservation about appearing, through a representative, has been Amazon,’ said Cicilline, the chairman of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.” (CNET, House Dem says he will subpoena Bezos for antitrust hearing if necessary, May 7)
“The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up Cicilline’s initial timeline for the subcommittee to deliver its report on competition in digital markets. The chairman initially said he hoped to wrap up the report by early April but said Thursday he now expects it to be released by the end of the spring.” (CNBC, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is ‘the only CEO who has expressed reservation about appearing’ before the House Antitrust Subcommittee, chairman says, May 7)
“Cicilline said the issue of digital dominance has gained importance in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic furthers people’s reliance on technology platforms. ‘It makes the work we’re doing to make certain that there’s actual competition in the digital marketplace even more important,’ he said. ‘It has raised the importance of the work that we’re doing.’” (Law360, House Antitrust Chief Aims To End Tech Probe By Late Spring, May 7)
As lawmakers and regulators put Amazon in their crosshairs, antitrust experts explain why the coronavirus has revealed how Amazon has tilted the playing field in its favor.
“Amazon encourages independent merchants with carrots and sticks to use its own in-house fulfillment service to ship their customers’ orders; the stick allegedly entails tying its fulfillment service to preferential access to Amazon’s platform. In contrast, a big-box outlet or a grocery store can never learn as much about a brand’s costs or margins.” (WIRED, Can It. Amazon Is Not Your Typical Grocery Store, May 4)
“It’s time to dispense with the notion that Amazon behaves just like every other retailer. Amazon’s market power is vast and only growing during the pandemic. Regulators need to be clear-eyed about the unique advantages enjoyed by Amazon when designing protections for independent merchants. Contrary to what is becoming a zombie myth, Amazon is not your father’s grocery store.” (WIRED, Can It. Amazon Is Not Your Typical Grocery Store, May 4)
“Excellent piece by @ShaoulSussman/@HalSinger on Amazon’s private label product strategy is anti-competitive even though other retailers also use private labels. The gist is, an online monopoly retailer can do things big offline retailers can’t.” (Twitter, Matt Stoller, May 4)
ABOUT THE FREE & FAIR MARKETS INITIATIVE
The Free & Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI) is a nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon’s harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans. For more information on the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, click here.