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Amazon accused of pressuring protest workers after Google

Amazon workers demonstrate against the US group's climate impact in Seattle (Washington) in September 2019. Karen Ducey / AFP

“Amazon is threatening to fire workers who denounce the company's role in the climate crisis. ” The Amazon employees for climate justice collective, which has been criticizing the world’s leading e-commerce’s environmental policy for several months, denounced retaliatory measures in a statement on Thursday (January 2nd). An Amazon lawyer sent a letter to two members of this group who spoke in October 2019 in an article in the Washington Post. According to the American daily – owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon -, engineer Maren Costa was thus told that a breach of the company's external communication rules could “Initiate corrective action, up to and including termination of employment”.

“It is clearly an attempt to silence employees who are speaking out on the climate crisis”, estimates Emily Cunnigham, a third employee, who was summoned by the human resources department. This leader of the collective defended, in May 2019, a resolution before the general meeting of shareholders of Amazon, after having launched, on April 10, 2019, a petition today signed by 8,700 employees. The two texts demanded that the company set dated targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also that its data hosting subsidiary stop collaborating with oil companies or that the group ceases to finance entities “Denying climate change”.

“Communication rules that are not new”

This conflict recalls the case of Google, where four employees were dismissed at the end of November 2019, despite a support march in their favor. These employees participated in protests against Google's collaborations with the army or the American police, its attempts to reinvest the Chinese market, its management of cases of sexual harassment internally … At Amazon, other collectives of Employees object to collaboration with the US immigration service or with the police.

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In response to the collective of employees for climate justice, Amazon ensures that “Its external communication rules are not new and are similar to those of other large companies.” Recently updated to “Facilitating” In practice, these provisions provide for an employee to obtain authorization before speaking publicly.

The ambiguity of the internal culture of the digital giants

For its part, the collective notes that the email explaining these new rules was sent on September 5, 2019, the day after the announcement of the participation of Amazon employees in the climate march on September 20. And that the day before the march, the company ended up committing to reduce its net CO emissions2 zero by 2040 and use 100% renewable energy by 2030 – a “Clear victory” for the mobilization of protest workers.

“The time is not to shoot the messengers”, concludes Mme Costa in the press release. Especially since the “Leadership principles” from Amazon encourage employees to “Challenge decisions when they disagree”. Opponents do not disarm, but, as at Google, the response of management could result in departures.

The ongoing confrontation brings to light the ambiguity of the internal culture of the digital giants: their leaders aspire to a certain standardization, but maintain the idea that their groups are not businesses like the others. In the absence of unions, informal employee collectives meet real aspirations for employee representation. If they disappeared, these governance issues could resurface.

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