Why I quit Amazon Prime
I’ve had Amazon Prime for the past few years. But when my subscription came up for renewal recently I decided to do a bit of research before deciding whether to continue with Amazon Prime. While ordering from Amazon is undeniably convenient as a consumer, I’ve become more and more conscious of how that convenience comes at a huge cost to others.
Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994 to sell books on the Internet. He set up his business in Seattle (having previously worked on Wall Street) partly because of its reputation as a hub for technical talent, but also, in a prescient warning of future behaviour, because headquartering the company in a less populous state like Washington was a way to minimise sales tax obligations. The company’s IPO took place in 1997, with Amazon’s share price at the end of the first day of trading $1.96 on the NASDAQ.
Fast forward to 2020 and the company has undeniably enjoyed enormous success, with its online marketplace now selling a wide range of products that are available worldwide and with localised storefronts across countries in North America, South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. Amazon also has a massively profitable subsidiary providing online cloud computing platforms in Amazon Web Services (AWS), an online grocery service in Amazon Fresh, and has added household names like Whole Foods, Ring and Twitch to the Amazon family. Bezos separately purchased the Washington Post in 2013. As a result, Amazon is one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalisation, its share price has soared above $3,000, and Jeff Bezos is currently the world’s richest person - seeing his fortune swell by $13 billion in just one day on 20 July.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has for the most part seen companies struggling and unemployment rising, the e-commerce giant has managed to avoid the carnage on the high street. The company’s 2020 first quarter sales were $75.5 billion, up 26% on 2019, and Q2 sales were 40% up on 2019, hitting $88.9 billion. As most companies were furloughing or making staff redundant, Amazon was able to take on another 175,000 workers.
That success has not come without controversy though. While if you read one of the company’s earnings statements you might think Amazon was a model corporate citizen. And that’s not to say the company hasn’t done some good things. Its warehouse employees are paid above the minimum wage and Amazon has launched a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to help it reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
However, over the years Amazon has faced accusations of aggressive tax avoidance (in 2019 it paid just £220 million on revenue of £10.9 billion in the UK), unfair working practices for its warehouse employees and delivery drivers, anti-competitive behaviour (at a recent Congressional hearing Bezos was questioned about Amazon’s 2010 targeting of Diapers.com, where Amazon sold products at a loss until Diapers.com agreed to a takeover - there’s even emails to prove it!), breaching individual’s privacy by recording and listening to conversations with Alexa on Echo devices, and contributing to plastic pollution by using plastic packaging for parcels instead of cardboard. Such is Amazon’s market dominance that there are calls for it to be treated as a public utility and broken up.
This is not to single Amazon out - there are lots of corporations that behave the same or worse. I have friends who are 'Amazonians' and love their jobs. But as one of the world’s largest companies, Amazon, whether it wants to or not, sets an example that other organisations follow. And so far, Amazon is not setting a great example.
What if instead we supported companies that did the right thing? Ones that are part of the solution in fighting climate change and maintaining an ecologically diverse planet. Ones that pay their employees a living wage AND treat them right. Ones that pay their taxes where they make their money. And ones that are philanthropic from the outset rather than as an afterthought.
As a consumer, Amazon Prime offers a huge amount of convenience and it’s easy to see why it has become a one-stop shop for a lot of people. The thing to remember though, is that if it seems like you’re getting a great deal then someone else in the supply chain is paying the price.
So I won’t be renewing my Amazon Prime subscription. That’s not to say that I’ll never use Amazon again, but I certainly don’t want Amazon to have a monopoly on my e-commerce spend, which is what having a Prime subscription does. I'm not sure this notion that we need things instantly is called for - I'm more than happy to wait a day or two longer for my delivery if it means a warehouse worker or delivery driver can have a toilet break. I’ll be sharing some of the small businesses I come across as I start this journey of diversifying my online shopping and if you want to read more there’s also a handy article here on alternatives to Amazon (I'll work on getting Buy Sustainably included in the next edition!).
Cover photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst
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