Since its founding as an online book broker in 1994, e-retail giant Amazon has revolutionised the way the world shops. From best-selling titles, baby essentials, outfits, housewares, to computer accessories, Amazon has just about every consumer good ready to ship at your doorstep. So what’s not to love about this global behemoth of a one-stop shop?
Why You Shouldn’t Get So Worked Up over Prime Day
For all the convenience that it offers, it turns out that there is a dark side to this American tech company. Year after year, Amazon has been hit with one allegation after another, mostly stemming from its questionable business practices. Here are three of the biggest ethical issues hurled against Amazon:
1. Tax Avoidance
Amazon has long been accused of being a serial tax avoider. In the United States, Amazon barely pays any federal income tax. According to Matthew Gardner, Senior Fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Amazon paid zero federal tax of its $5.6 billion profits in 2017. In the past five years, Amazon has only paid a rate of 11.4% on its $8.2 billion profit — around one-third of how much they should actually pay.
Bottom line: Tax avoidance is a serious economic offence, more so when it’s a multibillion-earning company that’s committing it. When high earners and big businesses don’t pay correct taxes, there’s less money going around, and those on the lower strata suffer the most.
2. Worker Exploitation
Amazon has also been accused of exploiting its 650,000-strong workforce in many ways.
Draconian is how UK warehouse worker Aaron Callaway described the working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses. Callaway revealed that he has to spend ten and a half hours per shift on his feet, moving each item to its correct location within 15 seconds or less, or else he will face a warning from his manager.
Down the line, the situation among Amazon’s suppliers is no different — sometimes even worse. A recent investigation has exposed how Amazon supplier Foxconn (which makes its Kindle and Echo products) subjected its workers in Hunan province to a gruelling 60-hour week (consisting of five eight-hour working days with two extra hours of overtime daily, plus another ten on Saturday) for only 14.5 Yuan (GBP 1.63) an hour.
A 2013 CNN report also revealed that “the average warehouse worker at Walmart makes just under $40,000 annually, while at Amazon would take home about $24,300 a year. That’s less than $1,000 above the official federal poverty line for a family of four.”
3. Privacy Concerns
Here’s another reason you should be concerned about being an Amazon customer: the company records as much information about its users as possible through Echo, Alexa, smart TVs, and Kindles. It either uses this information to sell products to its users or sells these data to advertisers and marketers. It knows your preferred products. Creepy, right?
And that’s not even half of it. UK consumer watchdog Ethical Consumer has made a list of Amazon’s offences, among them the following:
- pollutions and toxics
- arms & military supply
- irresponsible marketing
- animal testing
- factory farming
Amazon Alternatives: The Ethical Ones
Aside from Amazon, other competitors have also been accused of unethical business practices too. The list includes Walmart, Newegg, eBay, and AliExpress.
Fortunately, there are ethical online shopping alternatives. Here are 10 online marketplaces where you can splurge without guilt:
1. Better World Books: Books for Less
While Amazon still lays claim to being “the world’s largest bookstore,” this David is proving that what it can’t make up for in might (or numbers), it more than makes up for in heart. Better World Books is a certified B Corp that cares about its stakeholders more than it cares for profit. The company keeps perfectly readable books from ending up in landfills and sells them at bargain prices. In turn, it uses part of its profits to give back through literacy, education, and library initiatives.
2. Package Free Shop: Zero-Waste Shopping Haven
One of our pet peeves when it comes to online shopping is the enormous waste created by bulky, unnecessary packaging. Enter the Package Free Shop, which by its name alone, suggests that it hates plastic and waste as much as we do. This low-waste lifestyle online store carries an extensive lineup of eco-friendly bath, beauty, and home essentials brands, as well as bulk products. It also ships your orders in 100% compostable and recyclable paper wrapping or post-consumer boxes.
3. thredUP: Discounted Threads
If you’re looking for affordable, almost-new clothes at rock-bottom prices, thredUP is your best bet. The California-based clothing reseller gives gently used clothes a second life. As an added bonus, thredUP also uses zero plastic packaging when shipping your orders.
4. Credo Beauty: Clean Beauty
Credo Beauty is on a mission to clean up the beauty industry. Touting itself as “the largest clean beauty store on the planet,” Credo Beauty carries over 130 different “clean” beauty brands. These are mostly independent and women-led brands that have passed Credo Beauty’s product standards, assuring you that anything you see in their store is 100% sustainable, ethical, safe and responsibly sourced.
5. Hive: Supporting Independent Bookshops since 2011
Looking for books, vinyl, DVDs, or stationery? This UK-based online specialty store might have something you fancy. Even better, Hive gives a percentage of each purchase to a local or independent bookshop of your choice.
6. Etsy: Handmade Crafts with a Heart
If cheap, mass-produced products don’t hold any appeal to you, you’ll feel right at home shopping at Etsy. It has over one million independent sellers who each have something unique to offer those who are looking for local, handcrafted, or vintage items.
7. DoneGood: Guilt-Free Shopping
This “tiny startup with a big heart” is probably what Amazon would look like if it cared more for social good than profit. DoneGood carries a wide range of sustainable and ethically made products, from women, kids, and men’s clothing and accessories, bath and beauty essentials, to household items and outdoor gear. This store guarantees fair prices at every stage of the supply chain.
8. Traidcraft Online Shop: The Shop for All Things Fair Trade
While it’s still best to shop local when it comes to doing your groceries, shopping at fair-trade and ethical shops like Traidcraft comes as a close second. This UK-based fair-trade pioneer not only offers conscious consumers a place to shop sustainable fashion, home and garden goods, and organic, sustainable groceries, it’s also a gold mine for handmade, ethical, and fair-trade gifts.
9. EarthHero: One-Stop Sustainable Shop
EarthHero’s mission is simple: to simplify sustainable shopping so everyone can do it. EarthHero keeps a carefully curated catalogue of brands and products that have passed each of its stringent 5-stage selection process: (1) materials and ingredients, (2) responsible manufacturing, (3) giving back, (4) plastic-free packaging, and (5) sustainable lifestyle.
By carefully vetting each item against these standards, EarthHero makes sure only products that are good for you and for the planet make it to your shopping cart.
10. Public Goods: Clean, Inside and Out
Public Goods takes the middleman (that is, storefronts) out of the picture so that members can enjoy direct-to-consumer prices on all of its sustainably sourced, cruelty-free products. All of Public Goods’ items — from personal care, home essentials, healthy food, to vitamins and supplements — come in sleek, minimalist, and sustainable packaging such as sugarcane-based bottles and tree-free bamboo paper.
The Bottom Line
While Amazon continues to be a formidable force to be reckoned with, the growing popularity of local, ethical, and sustainable businesses only shows that more and more people are opening their eyes and hearts to conscious consumerism.
We might not be seeing the end of Amazon Prime Day anytime soon, but by making positive buying decisions and throwing our support behind stores that stand for sustainability, ethics, basic human rights, and privacy we are taking a step in the right direction.
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