The Scene: If you’re a college student, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you’ve received a package wrapped in bright blue packaging tape that says “Amazon Prime”. As consumers all over the world celebrate Amazon Prime Day, a day of sales only accessible to Amazon Prime members, Amazon warehouse workers in Spain, Poland, and Germany are walking off the job. The strikes are meant to force Amazon’s hand as the workers call for better working conditions and higher wages. Whether or not this will effect Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has a net worth of $152 billion, remains to be seen. So what are the risks and benefits at stake with a internet powerhouse like Amazon.com, Inc.?
In a blog post for Sunspots, Ethan Wu and Christina Xu discuss Amazon as a monopoly in the making:
• Wu: “One issue here is that most of Amazon’s competitors can’t get away with its growth-over-profits strategy. Shareholders expect meaty dividends. Some, including myself, are concerned that Amazon has become too dominant, steamrolling all of the competition. That might be fine in the short run. But if you zoom out, there’s a real fear of Amazon becoming a monopolist. In that scenario, everyone loses.”
• Xu: “Perhaps one sticking point is Amazon’s prestige as an empire. As the pioneer behind Prime shipping, the creator of Alexa, the producer of award-winning television shows, and the owner of Whole Foods Market, how could this company do wrong? To any outside observer, there seems to be no direction for Amazon but upwards. To stunt the growth of a company that seems to roll out an ingenious new idea on a semiannual basis seems ridiculous.”
• Wu: “One common reply is that Amazon isn’t actually hurting consumers. But the same could have been said about Rockefeller’s Standard Oil — before it started jacking up prices. The question is not whether Amazon is hurting consumers. It’s whether we, as capitalists, can tolerate one firm owning a monopoly.”
The Editorial Board of The Harvard Crimson discusses why Amazon choosing Boston for it’s second headquarters would benefit the local economy:
• “Moreover, Boston offers a promising pipeline of young, knowledgeable, and motivated students from a variety of disciplines. As [University President] Faust rightfully asserts, not only are Boston’s science, applied science, and engineering students strong assets for companies like Amazon, but so too are its students in the social sciences and humanities. Should Amazon decide to come here, it would greatly benefit from the area’s intellectual resources, culture, and diversity.”
• “... Amazon’s headquarters would help Boston develop as a city with stronger connections between the technology industry and academia. Stanford’s long-standing association with Silicon Valley, for instance, has helped them draw students and talent, and both have greatly benefited from the relationship. Amazon’s move would be an opportunity for Boston and the East Coast to gain traction in attracting more big tech corporations and leveling the playing field.”
• “Of course, should Amazon decide to come to Boston, it ought to be considerate of the surrounding community. Bringing in an influx of highly paid workers and a massive office space would inevitably affect the area. We acknowledge that Amazon’s move to the bid’s proposed site, Suffolk Downs and East Boston, would lead to gentrification and affect the demographics of the region. Thus, Amazon ought to limit its impact when possible and avoid imposing itself or its brand too heavily on the region.”
The Bottom Line: All workers, no matter where they live and who they work for, deserve a fair wage for their work and a safe place to complete it. With the amount of money Amazon brings in each day, there is no excuse for the terrible conditions in Amazon warehouses that some workers have described. However, since Bezos does profit so highly from the success of Amazon, he could choose to ignore the strikes and still be considered an online retail juggernaut. One would hope that he would use his bank account for good, but he has yet to make a statement. Many students depend on Amazon Prime to buy everything from cheaper textbooks to food (when they’re too lazy to walk to the grocery store themselves), and their reaction has yet to be gauged. Will the need to instantly access some items outweigh the human rights consequences?