Sara Spary
Aug 19, 2015

What, if anything, does the Amazon exposé prove?

Accusations too shocking to ignore, with consumers increasingly conscious about ethics of brands they buy from, says the author

What, if anything, does the Amazon exposé prove?
Amazon has recovered from a scandal or two and yet the average consumer, who isn't involved in workers rights or tax avoidance campaigning, seems to give the brand a slap on the wrist but forgive its alleged indiscretions. Why does it keep bouncing back? And is this the final warning?
It is likely that the head office at Amazon, particularly in the PR department, is feeling a little bruised from the New York Times exposé over the weekend, which claimed to show evidence of systematic staff mismanagement and horrific working conditions. 
The article drew on interviews from 100 Amazon staff. It painted a dark and uncomfortable picture of a workforce on the edge and pushed to its breaking limit. It highlighted alleged incidents where staff claim they were unfairly treated, overworked, treated like machines, and in some cases pushed out of the business due to uncontrollable issues like cancer and miscarriage. 
To make matters worse for Amazon, the crisis has spread far further than just Seattle. The GMB weighed in today and claimed that staff in Amazon’s UK operation have developed physical and mental illnesses because of the "regimes" they work under.
In a memo to staff, Jeff Bezos refuted the allegations and said it was not the Amazon he recognised, encouraging staff to escalate any concerns to HR. However is not the first time Amazon has been pilloried for working conditions. 
The BBC ran an investigation on working conditions in warehouses in 2013. At the time, there were alarm bells sounded about the mental and physical wellbeing of staff. If the New York Times article is to believed, little has changed other than that this aggressive work pace is not limited to the warehouse floor. 
A Machiavellian working environment?
But there is another side to the story, too. This picture is not one that industry people with experience working for Amazon have shared with Marketing. They argue that whilst it is expected people work hard, it is a pleasant place to work.  
Amazon itself says in HR marketing materials that people either love it or hate it. This kind of high octane, aggressively competitive approach can, as Richard Murkin, director at innovations consultancy What If, says appeal to some people. It can also drive innovation, something Amazon is deeply focussed on. 
Murkin says: "It works for very specific personality types who are motivated by a more adversarial, Machiavellian working environment. The reality is that most companies and employees aren’t like that, so few people are inspired to innovate in such places – so for the rest of us, a more collaborative, supportive culture brings out the best ideas and impact."
Amazon, like so many of the other tech giants, Google and Facebook included, is famously secretive and almost inaccessible. This can prove a fertile breeding ground for rife speculation. Amazon needs to put out the fire by addressing the issue head on.
The accusations are too shocking to ignore and this crisis might prove one slap on the wrist too many for consumers who are increasingly conscious about the ethics of the brands they buy from.
(This article first appeared on


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