Workers Stage Global Day of Action to #MakeAmazonPay

Members of Britain's GMB Union demonstrate outside Amazon's United Kingdom headquarters on May 26, 2021 as part of a #MakeAmazonPay global day of action for workers' rights. (Photo: War on Want/Twitter)

Workers Stage Global Day of Action to #MakeAmazonPay

"Loud and clear, Amazon's producers, distributors, and delivery drivers are telling Jeff Bezos: pay your workers."

Asserting that workers--not CEO Jeff Bezos--drive Amazon's success, employees of the world's largest online retailer joined forces with progressive campaigners Wednesday to stage a global day of solidarity and action to #MakeAmazonPay.

"Workers, not Bezos, make Amazon's world run. Around the world, the workers producing Amazon's profits are standing up to claim their rights."
--Casper Gelderblom,
Progressive International

From Bangladesh to Britain and countries across five continents, over 50 advocacy groups led by UNI Global Union and Progressive International turned out to support Amazon supply chain personnel--including warehouse, delivery, and garment workers--many of whom endure unpaid wages, poor working conditions, and union busting.

The day of action took place as Amazon held its annual shareholders meeting.

"During the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon became a trillion-dollar corporation, with CEO Jeff Bezos becoming the first person in history to amass $200 billion in personal wealth," the Make Amazon Pay coalition said on its website. "Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers risked their lives as essential workers, and faced threats and intimidation if they spoke out for their rights to a fair wage."

"As Amazon's corporate empire expands, so too has its carbon footprint, which is larger than two-thirds of all countries in the world," the coalition continued. "But instead of giving back to the societies that helped it grow, the corporation starves them of tax revenue. In 2019, Amazon paid just 1.2% tax in the United States, where the corporation holds its headquarters."

"The pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet," it added. "Amazon takes too much and gives back too little."

In Bangladesh, unionized garment workers laid off from Amazon supplier Global Garments' factory last October demanded the reopening of the shuttered facility and rehiring of its 1,200 union employees with back pay.

"The closure of the factory has taken away our means to survive," said Rinta Barua, who worked at the facility for 20 years but says she is now blacklisted for her labor organizing. "I've been trying to get a new job for over six months. But because I was a union leader at Global Garments, no one in the industry will hire me."

Workers like Barua at 1,400 factories around the world have played a critical role in making Amazon the top fashion retailer in the United States. Yet despite this, and despite the 84% increase in net profit enjoyed by the company last year, workers say Amazon and its suppliers are short-changing them.

In Cambodia, Amazon supplier Hulu Garment suspended all 1,020 of its workers at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Employees say they were forced to sign away their jobs and severance pay, which according to Progressive International amounts to $3.6 million.

"I have two children and elderly parents depending on me," said Yi Sokunthea, who worked at Hulu Garment for 15 years before the layoffs. "I had to reduce my daily expenses by 50%. I needed to pull my children out of school for a while."

In Europe--where tax filings recently revealed Amazon paid no corporate tax on record sales of nearly $53 billion during the pandemic--demonstrations were held in several countries Wednesday. Activists in Luxembourg, home of Amazon's European headquarters, "honored" Bezos with a "Dead Planet Award" (pdf) in absentia for "destroying workers' rights and the environment."

In Britain, campaigners rallied outside Lincoln Cathedral to call out Amazon's union busting. Protesters demanded the company respect labor organizing rights around the world, noting that it spent $10,000 a day on anti-union consultants during the recent unionization attempt by Alabama Amazon warehouse workers.

"Whether it's the U.K., Cambodia, Bangladesh, or the USA, Amazon is associated with anti-union tactics and poor treatment," Sharon Graham, executive officer at Unite, Britain's biggest union, toldThe Lincolnite. "It's time for Amazon's shareholders to demand action to deliver better rights for Amazon workers."

"Workers and campaigners for social justice are in a battle with Amazon on a global scale to protect workers' rights," Graham added. "It's a battle that we are determined to win, the alternative is the continued global race to the bottom."

Casper Gelderblom, Progressive International's coordinator for the Make Amazon Pay campaign, said that "Amazon is the most powerful corporation in the world, and its CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet. This power and wealth depends entirely on the labor of hundreds of thousands of workers around the world."

"Workers make the product you buy, package it for you, and deliver it to your doorstep," said Gelderblom. "Workers, not Bezos, make Amazon's world run. Around the world, the workers producing Amazon's profits are standing up to claim their rights."

"Across its supply chain, Amazon refuses to pay workers the respect and wages they deserve," Gelderblom added. "Loud and clear, Amazon's producers, distributors, and delivery drivers are telling Jeff Bezos: pay your workers."

Bezos announced Wednesday that he will formally step down as Amazon CEO on July 5, when longtime Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy will take over.

UNI Global Union general secretary Christy Hoffman said that "ultimately, making Amazon pay is part of a much bigger fight to win another world. One in which global commercial circuits are geared not towards the wealth and power of billionaires and shareholders, but towards the health and happiness of the hard-working people who run it."

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