Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos rebuffs warehouse safety concerns

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks to the audience during an opening session at the Amazon Re: MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas on June 6 2019.

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended the company’s response to the coronavirus crisis at its annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday.

Shareholders urged Bezos and other Amazon executives to get answers on the company’s treatment of warehouse workers, the spinoff potential from an in-depth review of Amazon and updates on its progress regarding environmental and pay equity issues.

No shareholder resolution on the file dealt with working conditions in the warehouses. However, the subject was a recurring theme among shareholders who presented proposals and submitted questions to Bezos, as well as in Amazon’s own remarks prepared during the virtual meeting, illustrating that there remains a major concern for people to inside and outside the company.

Bezos began his shareholder speech at the virtual meeting by thanking Amazon warehouse and delivery workers, saying they provided a “lifeline” to customers who were stranded at home.

“I am deeply grateful to each of you for the important work you do for clients,” said Bezos.

Warehouse workers, labor rights groups and lawmakers have repeatedly criticized Amazon’s response to the coronavirus, saying the company has been moving too slowly in its efforts to provide personal protective equipment, temperature controls and other tools to keep workers safe.

Bezos denied the accusations, saying that Amazon quickly understood the need to protect workers during the pandemic. He praised Amazon’s senior management and its board of directors, saying “they have done a remarkable job.”

“I am proud of the work the team has done there,” said Bezos. “We took this seriously from the start.”

Bezos added that Amazon has changed the way work is done inside warehouses to slow the spread of the coronavirus and is now “building” its own test labs, hoping to administer testing warehouse workers across the country.

Amazon repeated this message throughout the meeting, showing a series of videos of masked warehouse and delivery workers touting the extensive security measures at their facilities. A worker said his job was to “get into the chocolate shop and you won the golden ticket”, while another worker said he appreciated that Amazon “went too far in safety” .

The company’s efforts to highlight its security measures were criticized by shareholders at the meeting, including Maren Costa, a former Amazon user experience designer and member of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ). In April, Amazon fired Costa and Emily Cunningham, also a user experience designer, for breaking the rules of the business.

Costa referred to the resignation of Amazon vice president Tim Bray and the recent layoffs, which also included several protesters, as evidence of a “vein of toxicity running through the business”. Costa participated in an “alternative” shareholder meeting last week with Amazon investors who called on Amazon to disclose the results of its investments in coronavirus efforts.

During question-and-answer session, Bezos disputed allegations that Amazon fired employees for exposing its work practices, and said Amazon “welcomed” the further review of the company .

Bezos: we “under-invoice” considerably for Prime

Bezos also spoke of Amazon’s progress in executing its comprehensive climate change plan and the value of its Prime subscription service.

When asked if Prime had become too expensive, Bezos responded by saying that Amazon’s strategy was to “significantly undercharge” the service.

“Our strategy is to create value in advance with Prime,” said Mr. Bezos. “We always want Prime to be much more valuable than what we charge.”

The subscription service has increasingly attracted the attention of antitrust regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission, who questioned if it harms Amazon competitors by combining several valuable services in a single package. Prime subscribers pay $ 119 per year, or $ 12.99 per month, for free two-day delivery on orders and access to Prime Video, among other benefits.

Amazon is also facing several other ongoing antitrust surveys. The company is under investigation by FTC officials into its retail and cloud computing business practices, reports from several electrical outlets. Both the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee have opened large antitrust reviews of Big Tech.

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