For the love of cheap consumer goods and next-day delivery, can we all just give Amazon a break? I don’t mean a tax break; it has had enough of those already. I mean can we please stop bullying the trillion-dollar multinational and its billionaire owner? After all, it is not Jeff Bezos’s fault that he has more money than he knows what to do with. It is not his fault he makes more money in 12 seconds than his lowest-paid employees make in a year. He can’t do anything about that! Nevertheless, people keep criticising the poor guy and suggesting his billions are ill-begotten.
In the past, Amazon has weathered criticism quietly. In the past few weeks, though, the company seems to have taken a leaf out of Donald Trump’s Twitter book and has been belligerently calling out its critics. Last week, Joe Biden tweeted that the company ought to pay more tax. Amazon responded by tweeting that it pays “every penny” it owes and suggesting snarkily that Biden’s complaint was with the US’s tax laws, not the company. On Monday, it was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s turn to be lectured. The congresswoman recently told ABC News that she believes Bezos’s billionaire status is partly due to Amazon paying “starvation wages” and taking “billions of dollars of government subsidies”. This is nonsense, according to Amazon. It tweeted: “AOC is just wrong. Amazon is a leader on pay at $15 min wage + full benefits from day one. We also lobby to raise federal min wage.”
Amazon didn’t stop there. Jay Carney, its head of communication, was so incensed by his paymaster’s reputation being besmirched that he tweeted: “I’d urge @AOC to focus on raising the federal minimum wage instead of making stuff up about Amazon.”
I know it is fashionable to call anything you don’t agree with FAKE NEWS, but it is bizarre for Carney to claim Ocasio-Cortez is “making stuff up” when there is plenty of evidence Bezos’s billions are derived in part from exploiting workers, avoiding tax and raking in government subsidies. According to data collected by the advocacy group Good Jobs First, Amazon has received nearly $2.5bn in US government subsidies. It is also well documented that thousands of Amazon employees have had to rely on food stamps and are frequently worked so hard that they don’t have time to take toilet breaks. Then there is the fact that Amazon has fought taxes that would raise money for homelessness services. And the fact that it issues credit cards with a 28% interest rate to people with poor credit.
To be fair, Amazon is correct that it pays its staff at least $15 an hour, but that is a new development – the company only raised its minimum wage last autumn, because of enormous political pressure. Bernie Sanders, for example, introduced a bill called the Stop Bezos Act that would tax employers if their staff require federal benefits. The audacity of Amazon positioning itself as a benevolent activist is jawdropping. It is even more jawdropping that Carney has the temerity to tell Ocasio-Cortez that she is “making stuff up”. And it is downright insulting to tell her she ought to spend her time focusing on trying to raise the federal minimum wage when she has been doing just that. Amazon’s attacks on the congresswoman aren’t just unfounded; they are a prime example of corporate gaslighting. Whatever you do, don’t buy it.