Amazon had a record-breaking year in 2020, bringing in over $20 billion in profits. This was a great year for shareholders and executives, but who makes these profits possible and who bears the brunt of the harm from a corporation that prioritizes profits at all costs?
During the pandemic, Amazon hired an extra 250,000 warehouse workers to help with the surge of online orders. But how many of those workers were Black and Brown people and how does that compare to representation of Black and Brown employees at all levels of the company?
Amazon’s own data shows that 31% of Amazon’s field and customer support are Black workers, compared to 7.2% of corporate workers that are Black. A majority of Amazon’s 1.3 million employees work in distribution centers. Due to the lack of diverse representation at the management level, Black and Brown warehouse workers are at a disadvantage for workplace policy development and implementation.
Amazon Warehouse Workers Labor Under Brutal Conditions and Fight Back
Amazon makes a big deal about how much it pays warehouse workers. But it took significant public pressure by politicians, unions, and nonprofit organizations calling on Amazon to pay more. As a result Amazon's warehouse workers are now starting at $15 per hour. While Amazon’s eye-catching wages are more than double the federal minimum wage, it is becoming increasingly common for large corporations, such as Target and Costco, to pay well above minimum wage, which makes Amazon starting wage less impressive, especially when considering the high injury rate at Amazon facilities.
The current wage does not outweigh the long-term health conditions that these workers face. There is no justification for anyone working in these horrifying conditions: long hours, toxins in the air, minimal breaks, and high injury rates.
According to BBC News, Amazon's warehouse jobs have one of the highest injury rates compared to competitors. Warehouse facilities have the highest percentage of Black and Brown workers at Amazon, who make it possible for the company to provide its famous one-day delivery. But instead of sharing in the enormous profits their work makes possible, they suffer from debilitating injuries, while corporate leadership and shareholders get rich.
Amazon intentionally places distribution facilities in underrepresented communities - which can lead to negative health impacts for community members due to worse air quality for example. The communities of color are also affected negatively by the environmental impacts of the distribution centers with constant truck traffic and pollution. Workers are calling out Amazon for “Environmental Racism”.
A former employee tells One Zero Medium:
“You’re coming into these communities of color and polluting the environment.”
Workers and communities of color are organizing and fighting back. And Black workers are leading the way, demanding the dignity and respect they are owed. In Bessemer Alabama, the Amazon distribution center has a majority Black workforce. The recent unionization effort at Bessemer Alabama was led by Black workers and is one way workers are trying to end the unjust and dangerous working conditions at Amazon. While many workers voted against a union in the election, Amazon allegedly violated labor laws. The core allegations against Amazon from the union are that “Amazon might have had access to the secret ballots cast by workers or that workers might be under surveillance as they cast their votes”.
White Men Have the Power at Amazon
But who is making these decisions about Black and Brown workers? About 50% of Amazon corporate employees are white males. In 2020, 70% of Amazon’s senior leaders were white males. Jeff Bezos and other white males in the corporate sector decide how to allocate the company’s resources and make the rules that affect Black and Brown communities and workers.
The underrepresentation of Black and Brown corporate workers at Amazon could be contributing towards racial bias and the disrespect that Black and Brown warehouse workers have experienced. “We struggle to bring [Black] folks in because there’s not a whole lot of desire, in my opinion, to go outside of our normal practices,” said the current Amazon diversity manager.
The systemic racism built into corporations such as Amazon creates a disadvantage for Black and Brown employees to grow professionally.
Kelly Rae, a former Amazon corporate employee, felt unheard while working at Amazon:
“the company has failed to create a corporate-wide environment where all Black employees feel welcomed and respected.”
One of the fundamental problems at Amazon is the lack of diversity in the corporate spectrum - only 7% of corporate staff are Black AND less than 4% of senior leadership is Black. An increase of Black people in positions of power at the company could change the dynamic, with Black people having decision-making power over how the company treats warehouse and delivery employees and communities. An increase in Black leadership could also lead to greater overall corporate responsibility, profitability, and innovation.
Donations are Not Action
In 2020, Amazon donated 10 million dollars supporting justice and equity organizations such as: UNCF, NAACP, and Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which is a positive action. But that is not enough, as it does not address the negative impact that Amazon’s operations have on people of color and communities. Corporate charity is not a solution to racial injustices that are embedded in the company’s operations. Especially when those charitable donations are decided by a white male, who ultimately is not able to understand the lived experiences of many who are harmed by the practices of Amazon. These donations are just empty gestures - little action to address racial and environmental injustices has taken place.
Consumers Have Power to Change the Company
The good news? This company is customer obsessed. Together, we have gotten Amazon to move on climate action and we can get them to move on worker and racial justice issues!
Hold this company accountable and take action:
- Sign and share our Amazon action, calling on the company to respect all workers’ rights.
- Support small businesses and shop from Amazon Alternatives - all green businesses prioritizing people and the planet.
- Want to go a step further? Write Amazon directly! Here is a template to get you started.
- Additionally, you can call or write your senator and ask that they support the PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ rights in the US.