It goes without question that Amazon’s social and environmental impact are huge. Whether one likes it or not, Amazon is an essential part of the internet and its economy. As users of Arbor, you have searched high and low and how Amazon aligns with your values is important to you.

Considered the world’s most valuable brand and one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world, the Seattle-based, multinational tech behemoth has revolutionized and shaped e-commerce indefinitely.  Be it through Kindle, Alexa, Prime, cloud computing, or AI, Amazon has an influence over your purchasing decisions.

In 1995, when e-commerce was just still getting its feet wet in the commercial world, Amazon was launched. As one of the Big Five companies (alongside Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook) and parent company of Whole Foods and the Washington Post, Amazon got its start as an online book retailer with the goal of becoming the Earth’s largest bookstore.

Inside an Amazon fulfillment centre (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Out of the three categories of Arbor values (Planet, People, and Employment) let's take a glance into the performance of Amazon with the top applied values by Arbor users in each category (Emissions, Human Rights, and Corporate Ethics).

PLANET

Emissions score: 3/5

A company with the Herculean size of Amazon is bound to have an equally imposing environmental footprint.  Because of the scale of its impact, achieving complete carbon neutrality is an unsustainable and currently very unachievable goal. Instead, through their Climate Pledge - Amazon has commented on reaching net-zero carbon across their businesses by 2040. This ambitious goal –10 years ahead of the goals set by the Paris Agreement– which would mean that Amazon’s total emissions of greenhouse gases are in balance with the equivalent offset of their emissions.

Amazon pledges to be net-zero carbon by 2040, a full 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement (image: Amazon Sustainability)

Amazon has created a Climate Pledge Fund of $2 billion in investments put towards decarbonization services and to help preserve the natural world. It has invested $100 million in reforestation projects and climate mitigation solutions. 

They have also joined the Science Based Target Initiative. A global initiative to push sustainable corporate growth by setting ambitious science-based targets to reduce emissions. 

From Amazon:

While Amazon’s net sales increased 22% in 2019 (excluding changes in foreign exchange rates), our total carbon footprint increased 15% during the same period. While still in early days, our 2019 carbon intensity metric is 122.8 grams of CO2e per GMS, down 5% year over year from 128.9 grams of CO2e per dollar in 2018. Like many companies in high growth mode, we look at the absolute tons of carbon in our footprint, but also at how we are improving our carbon intensity. Our first year-over-year comparison shows progress as we continue to make investments in innovation, technologies, and products that will decarbonize our operations over future years.

Amazon also intends to have 50% of all of it’s shipment and related facilities be net-zero carbon by 2030. Having reached 42% renewable energy in 2019, Amazon intends to have 100% of its energy sourced from renewable sources by 2025. 

Amazon Europe is currently in contract with service providers to launch a low-pollution fleet of 130 low-polluting electric and natural gas vans and cars. Along with 40 electric scooters and e-cargo bikes for urban deliveries. Amazon US has already placed the world’s largest order of electric vehicles: 100,000 purchased for deliveries. The switch to electric vehicles will start in 2021 but will take several years for the entire fleet to be fully migrated over. 

PEOPLE

Human Rights Score: 3/5

The impact of COVID on the global economy and the supply chain should be a driving force behind corporate change. During the pandemic, Amazon has added 175,000 new jobs and has increased hourly wages by $2USD in the US, $2CAD in Canada, and by 2 euro in many European countries. 

As a standard across the company, all eligible and full time employees receive health benefits on the first day of employment. They are also in the process of building scalable Covid testing in all sites.  But these measures haven't protected Amazon from a fair share of controversy and a lawsuit or two.

Former Amazon employee demonstrating outside of an Amazon warehouse during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020. Image via Reuters.

Not only is Amazon collaborating with the WHO to drive Covid initiatives, but it has made 150 significant changes to the processing measures in their Amazon facilities as well as in those of Whole Foods. The flow of traffic greatly varies in customer-facing companies like Whole Foods and in response, free masks are supplied to all customers, as well as complimentary masks and regular temperature testing at all sites for staff. Amazon is projected to invest $4 billion in the second quarter of 2020 on covid-related initiatives for distribution and employment safety.

Amazon Smile, a supplementary shopping site through Amazon donates 0.5% of all eligible purchases to the customer’s choice of charitable organizations with no additional fees or extra costs. They also work with food banks in 25 US cities and have successfully helped deliver 6 million meals to those in need.

EMPLOYMENT

Corporate Ethics Score: 1/5

Accusations that read like they could be a Buzzfeed article called “Top Moments from Amazon’s Corporate Culture That Will Make You Cringe” have earned Amazon the low corporate Ethics score of 1 out of 5. 

Some scandal-worthy practices include technological surveillance overreach, tax avoidance, and an extremely competitive and demanding corporate culture.  As well as in 2018, a Guardian investigation reported a number of cases of Amazon workers suffering from workplace related accidents in their warehouses across the US. 

Image via Amnesty International

In March 2020, the company was sued for discrimination and harassment in violation of the Equal Pay Act for alleged racial and gender discrimination at one of their corporate offices. Here’s is what the lawsuit filed on behalf of Charlotte Newman, a former Black policy manager with Amazon had to say: 

 “Within months of starting at the company, she in fact was assigned and doing the work of a senior manager-level employee while still being paid at and having the title of the manager level, to make matters worse, and in defiance of the anti-discrimination laws, Ms. Newman was paid significantly less than her white coworkers, particularly in valuable Amazon stock. If that were not bad enough, unlike her colleagues, Ms. Newman had to wait more than two and a half years for a promotion to the level at which she should have been hired in the first place, and at which level she had already been performing work for more than two and a half years.”

The suit is ongoing and Amazon is investigating the associated allegations as well as posting very timely tweets on their twitter the day before the suit such as, “spark conversation and exploration about how we—as individuals, teams, and a company—can continue to be active participants in dismantling systemic racism, oppression and inequality. Our work is not done, and we still have a long way to go.” 

In a 1997 letter to shareholders, when the company still only sold books, Jeff Bezos wrote, “You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” This still serves as a corporate manifesto and new hires are warned that Amazon is not an easy place to work. It is undeniable that the high-expectations and cutthroat work culture of Amazon have come under fire over the years. But with that, they have also created a workforce of vastly driven individuals and deepest pockets that are capable of investing in these all-encompassing issues of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A top recruiter of Amazon said “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy. When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”

Amazon warehouse on September 4, 2014 in Brieselang, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In 2019, Amazon launched the $20 billion AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative (DDI) to accelerate covid research:

The AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative supports AWS customers who are working to bring better, more accurate diagnostic solutions to market faster. Given the need, the emphasis initially will be on COVID-19, but we will also consider other infectious disease diagnostic projects. The program will be open to accredited research institutions, research consortia, and private entities that are using AWS to support research-oriented workloads for the development of point-of-care diagnostic (testing that can be done at home or at a clinic with same-day results) and other diagnostic techniques. We will not support administrative workloads to run routine IT operations through this program.