Like many, you probably shop online. Amazon.com is the world’s largest retailer and is synonymous with online shopping. 55% of shoppers in the U.S. turn to Amazon as their first stop. In 2014, we first dug into the company’s record on environmental and social responsibility and found Amazon.com to be performing poorly across the board–from dirty energy to worker exploitation. While Amazon has responded to consumer pressure by adopting more renewable energy, it is still a laggard on environmental and labor issues.
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Greener Options than Amazon
Amazon’s Sustainability Record:
Amazon uses huge amounts of electricity and most of the company’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants. In 2015, in response to mounting public pressure, including our Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign, Amazon’s hosting company, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it would invest in both solar and wind energy projects. As these projects came online, AWS is now using 50% renewable energy to power its massive network of data centers. The company has committed to move to 100% renewable energy by 2030, but is still behind competitors like Apple and Google.
However, Amazon’s commitment to a cleaner cloud is being called into question due to its overtures to the fossil fuel sector. Online tech news site Gizmodo published an explosive exposé showing that Amazon is actively courting business from the largest oil and gas companies to put the power of Amazon’s giant servers to work to make it easier to drill for fossil fuels. Amazon aims to make millions or billions of dollars. The resulting climate impacts will exact a huge cost on all the rest of us, in the form of extreme weather, failing crops, and social instability.
In addition, Greenpeace has called into question Amazon's commitment to clean energy in Virginia, where many of Amazon's servers are located, and found that those servers are powered by 12% renewable energy.
Amazon is also still stalling in terms of transparency, refusing to report its energy usage and climate impacts to the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Amazon got a lot of positive press when it increased the minimum wage in its warehouses to $15 per hour, but that move came in response to intense public pressure and hides the reality of working conditions throughout the company's supply chain.
First, while Amazon raised the minimum wage, it cut benefits at the same time. It is difficult to determine if workers are better off overall after the benefits cut and the minimum wage increase, as one of the benefits that was cut was giving workers stock in the company.
Second, Amazon warehouse workers labor under brutal conditions. Workers in Amazon’s “Fulfillment Centers” (warehouses) have been found to work non-stop on their feet in non-air conditioned buildings. These same workers are forced to sign 18-month non-compete agreements, which prevent them from finding other similar work, should they be let go. The author Simon Head concluded when it comes to labor practices, “Amazon is worse than Walmart.”
Just recently, a warehouse worker died while working in Amazon’s warehouse. Amazon waited 20 minutes before calling for help and demanded other workers immediately go back to work, granting workers no time to process the loss of their co-worker, and this is not the first time this type of incident has occurred. NYCOSH recently published a great report on the negative health effects of Amazon’s high daily quotas for warehouse workers.
Third, Amazon uses many contract workers to deliver its packages, and these workers are paid by the number of packages delivered, which creates incentives for overwork and unsafe driving. This summer, an Amazon contract driver killed a woman.
Fourth, concerns have been raised regarding the overseas labor that manufactures Amazon's devices. Workers are not being protected from toxins, and reports have found underage workers in Amazon factories.
Finally, even white collar workers are not protected. The New York Times’ explosive expose on Amazon’s white-collar workers revealed that while employees at Amazon’s Headquarters may earn a great deal, they are often subjected to a ruthless working environment. Current and former employees conveyed tales of working for four days without sleeping, developing ulcers from stress, never seeing their families, even being fired for having cancer or a miscarriage and needing time to recover.
Like many corporate behemoths, Amazon has a history of shielding profits overseas, and for years, it fought against charging sales tax on its products. In 2018, Amazon paid $0 in taxes on $11 billion in profits.
Amazon has also been spending money to influence local politics. The company has spent money to defeat a tax on large companies in Seattle where the proceeds would help address the homeless crisis.