American consumers are expected to spend more than one trillion dollars on the holidays this season. And a staggering amount of those dollars are going to one company: Amazon. In the 2018 holiday season alone, Amazon shipped over one billion packages to its Prime customers. This year, Amazon expects to make upwards of $86.5 billion in holiday sales.
With an increasing spotlight on Amazon’s horrendous labor practices and unethical delivery tactics, more and more people are looking for ways to give gifts to loved ones while avoiding the corporate behemoth.
Of course, it’s not so easy: Part of Amazon’s larger strategy has been to make us completely reliant on it. Many of us can’t completely avoid Amazon (I use it from time to time), and others are dependent on its products or services for their livelihoods, and should not be shamed for that. Like any good evil company, Amazon has made it nearly impossible to completely escape its web, whether you are a business owner, a consumer or even a medical patient.
But when we do have the choice, the most powerful way consumers can fight back against Amazon is to simply not give it our money.
Amazon’s Wealth Is Built on Brutality
The riches and power of Amazon are staggering to comprehend — let alone the riches of its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world. To put how much money Bezos makes into perspective, it is estimated that it would take the hundreds of thousands of Amazon warehouse workers five weeks to individually make what Bezos earns in a single second. Not a year, month, week, day, or even a minute — one second.
But the most infuriating part of this is that Bezos’s incomprehensible wealth is only made possible due to the backbreaking work of these same underpaid employees. Amazon demands so much from its warehouse workers that there have been reports of people urinating into bottles instead of taking bathroom breaks to meet their relentless packing quotas. Worse, many warehouse workers have become permanently injured and disabled on the job. Last month, the Atlantic told the story of Candice Dixon, an Amazon employee who was forced to work to the breaking point:
An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100 percent due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair — everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve.
The unfortunate reality is that there are thousands more employees like Candice, left in the wake of Amazon’s pursuit to sell you everything and deliver it to you all at instantaneous speeds.
State interests are also complicit in Amazon’s brutal power abuses. During a failed attempt to woo the company into opening its coveted second headquarters in their state, Indiana officials actually helped Amazon cover up the death of an improperly trained and overworked employee, Phillip Lee Terry, who was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse.
The Human Misery Behind Amazon’s Inhuman Delivery Times
Amazon’s miraculous delivery options have warped the public’s expectations about the speed and cost of ordering things online. Free delivery, next day delivery, and, even in some cities, same-day delivery, has become the expected norm. When nearly 50 percent of all online purchases happen through your company, it turns out you have the ability to change the expectations of an entire country.
I relied on same-day and next-day shipping when my baby was born nearly a year and a half ago. Bleary-eyed and learning what it took to be a father for the first time, I used Amazon to stock up on diapers, wipes and anything that might possibly get our newborn to go to sleep.
But from the moment I clicked that checkout button to when the package was dropped off at my doorstep, I had set off a chain of events that was made possible only by exploitation. Amazon’s incredible deliveries aren’t powered by magic; they are powered by human misery in unsafe Amazon warehouses as well as on the streets by overstressed and underpaid delivery contractors.
As one Amazon warehouse employee told Gizmodo:
“As soon as we clock in, we’re pushing our bodies and minds to the limit on these machines, feeling like robots a lot of the time getting the stuff out,” said William Stolz, a picker who gathers products for orders at an Amazon fulfillment center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has worked there for about two years. “Amazon’s working conditions have to change if they’re going to actually start treating us like human beings with dignity.”
And once an order leaves the warehouse, Amazon has a complex, sprawling delivery apparatus that relies heavily on contracted companies to quickly get your package to your door. But by using these third-party companies, Amazon is able to wash its hands of abusive practices, low wages, and even culpability when overworked drivers kill pedestrians. BuzzFeed News reported on one such incident in Chicago:
The officers who investigated the crash didn’t ask Gray about the constant pressure for speed he faced as a driver for Inpax Shipping Solutions — one of hundreds of small companies that make up Amazon’s gigantic delivery network across America. If they had, they would have discovered that the company’s drivers worked under relentless demands to deliver hundreds of packages each shift — for a flat rate of around $160 a day — at the direction of dispatchers who often compel them to skip meals, bathroom breaks, and any other form of rest, discouraging them from going home until the very last box is delivered.
And during the holidays, Amazon’s abusive and exploitative conditions are only exacerbated.
How to Avoid Amazon This Holiday Season
Okay, so you know Amazon is bad — but what other options are there for giving gifts this holiday season? The most straightforward answer is to do exactly the opposite of what happens when you use Amazon: Give your money to places that uplift workers, artists, creators and communities.
Support independent artists and buy from local businesses. Many local businesses and artists depend on holiday sales to stay afloat. And beyond that, buying local keeps money in our communities — creating more jobs and tax revenue for local services. Amazon, on the other hand, generated $11.2 billion in profits in 2018, which it paid no federal taxes on.
Imagine alternative gifts and experiences. Ditching Amazon also provides an opportunity to imagine not only alternate companies, but also alternate ways of gift-giving: handmade gifts, written gifts, donations to organizations the gift-receiver supports, and so on. Another idea is to start giving people the gifts of experiences instead of things. In general, research shows that people are happier when they spend their money on doing things, rather than acquiring things. Classes to learn how to cook or play an instrument, theater and movie tickets, a night of babysitting for new parents (trust me on this one), a pre-purchased appointment for a massage, or something adventurous like rock climbing or zip-lining could all make great experience-based gifts.
Shop co-op and fair trade. Cooperatives are businesses that are democratically owned and run by a membership — such as consumers or workers. In the United States, there are hundreds of worker-owned cooperatives, many with online stores that sell anything from books to board games, sports gear, beauty products, and more. If you search online for “co-op holiday presents,” for example, the resources are abundant. There are also online as well as brick-and-mortar retailers in most cities that specialize in fair trade crafts and goods, which focus on improving conditions and pay for working people who are traditionally exploited around the world.
While we can’t all abandon Amazon for everything, we can start to build habits and practices that allow us to ditch the behemoth. So, let’s start by disappointing Jeff Bezos and taking our holiday shopping elsewhere. Then, let’s make it our new year’s resolution to support the Amazon workers organizing strikes to fight for better pay and conditions.