Recently on twitter I said something I’m sure lost me a few followers, “Let’s make it an amazon free Christmas.” (Though I don’t doubt I say plenty of things on any given day that make people wonder why they associate with me!). But in either case, it’s true, let’s boycott Amazon and every other big corporate chain store this Christmas! This is really how I feel these days. I’m tired of the big company’s crushing all these little local shops. Store after store in our little downtown of Camas is going under and I’ve already mentioned the major bone I have with what Amazon is doing to our independent bookstores. I’ve been boycotting Amazon for all my book buying at least since the time I wrote that post in favor of shopping at places like Fuller Seminary Bookstore, Powell’s books or Abebooks online. But I want to extend this challenge beyond just books to everything that can be purchased on Amazon.com.
One thing I find rather tragic is just how many people Christian bloggers are in bed with Amazon. It’s really surprising that even some of the most alternative thinking folks I know become very mainstream when it comes to getting the cheapest possible books (or other products) they can find, or making money on every book link they have in a post (most often with no disclaimers anywhere).
But I should be up front, I really don’t like any big box stores: Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods, you name it (though you will spot me at some of these from time to time, I honestly try and avoid them as much as possible). And I am already boycotting Amazon, so I’m not generally tempted to shop there; I guess this makes my challenge more of an open invitation than a personal one. I started turning against these, what we might call, homogeneous consumption troughs back when I was in high-school back in Alliance Ohio. We watched Wal-Mart move in, and destroy tons of the local businesses in our small town and in my estimation Alliance has never fully recovered (here’s an interesting profile of a woman who worked at that particular store). That one experience left me a little bitter and started me on another path: I start looking for different ways (and places) to spend my money to support businesses I believed in.
Let’s face it Amazon.com is the Wal-Mart of the Web. They are taking over, cutting costs, and helping to finish off whatever is left of small town America. In the film “What Would Jesus Buy?” Rev. Billy has a funeral for small town America next to the Wal-Mart headquarters; I’d be interested in having an online (blog) funeral for the same thing Amazon is doing to local bookstores, music stores, and everybody else they’ve set their sights on (I highly recommend the film).
Of course, one response to my Amazon-free Christmas twitter remark was fair enough: “The people who supply to or work for Amazon don’t need the money?” He’s right, yes, they most certainly do, or at least some of them do. But why not go directly to the company, or person selling the good and cutting the middle person out? Further, do you really need that thing you’re buying from Amazon in the first place? Surely you’re not purchasing most items to benefit the other person, so one of our first questions should always be: do I need to buy this thing in order to have what possessing it promises? I’ve found that so many of the things I really need, I can find used on craigslist, at a garage sale, or from a friend who is no longer using it (church email groups are great for this kind of thing!). And of course there’s the whole “You don’t need to buy a gift to give a gift,” line that Rev. Billy preaches that is about as Gospel as they come. Making gifts are really one of the best ways to go. Why spend a lot of money (or any!) on Christmas, is that what it’s all about?
But then I ran across this post on the lives of Amazon.com workers and things start to look even less favorable for the corporation ironically named after the very thing it is helping to decimate (paper anyone?). Here are some of the conditions reported from warehouses in the UK that the post highlights:
- Warned that the company refuses to allow sick leave, even if the worker has a legitimate doctor’s note. Taking a day off sick, even with a note, results in a penalty point. A worker with six points faces dismissal.
- Made to work a compulsory 10-hour overnight shift at the end of a five-day week. The overnight shift, which runs from Saturday evening to 5am on Sunday, means they have to work every day of the week.
- Set quotas for the number of items to be picked or packed in an hour that even a manager described as ‘ridiculous’. Those packing heavy Xbox games consoles had to pack 140 an hour to reach their target.
- Set against each other with a bonus scheme that penalises staff if any other member of their group fails to hit the quota.
- Made to walk up to 14 miles a shift to collect items for packing.
- Given only one break of 15 minutes and another of 20 minutes per eight-hour shift and told they had to notify staff when going to the toilet. Amazon said workers wanted the shorter breaks in exchange for shorter shifts.
Now certainly this is just one report and doesn’t cover every warehouse they have (though the are lawsuits in the US for some of the same issues), but let’s not lose the point: these are not statistics that should be popping up in the warehouses of such rich corporations like Amazon (the way they do with Wal-Mart, etc). I want to raise a basic question about shopping online: with an even greater amount of anonymity that the Web provides businesses, in what ways are you being careful about the impact of shopping for really cheap things from some other states and countries and how it impacts your local communities (and Does it matter to you?) But also, what about that company’s business practices and how it treats its employees, will you support (i.e. give your money to) a company that treats its employees poorly, runs them into the ground and takes advantage of them? At least with Wal-Mart you can walk in and take a look at how people are being treated, and you can ask the employees how things are going for them. Of course, if we know the answer will we respond? This is generally not the case for our online shopping and Amazon is starting to get in trouble for some of its poor working conditions. Let’s respond this year.
So I reassert my challenge, Let’s have an Amazon.com-free Christmas this year.
[Image from Huffingtonpost.com]