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357 Amazon Employees Break Company Policy, Speak Out Online for Faster Climate Action

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Cloud computing and online commerce behemoth Amazon is facing an unprecedented revolt by 357 employees participating in a public display of support for colleagues who were warned they could be dismissed for speaking out against the company’s climate practices.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice published [1] the workers’ statements yesterday in a post on Medium. “The comments, all of which will be attributed to Amazon workers by name, are a mass defiance of company rules that bar workers from commenting publicly on its business without corporate justification and approval from executives,” the Washington Post wrote [2] earlier in the day.

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“Amazon’s role in the climate crisis is staggering and alarming,” wrote queue management analyst Scott Ogle. “While the company has publicly announced measures to reduce emissions and impacts in the coming years, it does not add up with its ongoing support to oil and gas industries and its efforts to silence employees who speak out. I stand with fellow employees who prioritize sustainability over profits.”

“Solidarity to the workers facing retaliation for standing up!” added software engineer Charlie LaBarge.

“Of course we are passionate about these issues,” responded company spokesperson Drew Herdener, adding that Amazon encourages workers to espouse causes they believe in but keep the discussion in-house when it relates to company business.

“Workers can submit questions to executives during all-hands meetings, and they can join internal interest groups, such as ones that focus on sustainability. Employees can also attend lunch sessions with Amazon leaders to discuss the issues, as long as they are willing to keep matters raised in those sessions confidential,” the Post writes.

“While all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems,” Herdener said.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice “claims credit for pushing Amazon” to get more engaged on the issue, the Post states, “but it wants the company to go further. The group has called on Amazon to commit to being carbon neutral by 2030, to end cloud computing contracts that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction, and to stop funding politicians and lobbyists who deny climate change.”

Fossils, meanwhile, are indirectly making the Amazon workers’ case as they increasingly look to digital technologies as a lifeline in an increasingly uncertain future [4]. The industry faces a “perfect storm” as it scrambles to secure investment, hire the talent it needs, and answer environmental groups’ sharp-edged critiques, one chief information officer told a recent forum in Aberdeen, Scotland. And digital technologies are “maturing rapidly” and offering the industry a pathway “not just to make money, but to operate more efficiently and cement its place as a sustainable part of the energy mix,” Energy Voice reports [5].

The Post places the Amazon protest alongside similar actions at Google and Microsoft on issues ranging from climate, to sexual harassment, to the development of facial recognition technologies that could be misused by law enforcement. But “collective action is rare among white-collar workers, and even rarer among the coders, testers, and engineers who work for tech giants,” the paper notes.

“This is not something we’ve seen before,” said University of Washington historian Margaret O’Mara, author of a book chronicling the Silicon Valley tech industry. And because of the work they do, “these high-skilled workers are among these tech companies’ most valuable assets,” she added.

“The challenge for Amazon is that it is selective in its hiring, investing large sums to entice employees to join the company and train them to develop its sophisticated products and services,” the Post explains. “Even though the workers speaking out account for a small fraction of Amazon’s total work force of 750,000, including warehouse workers, they would be costly to replace.”