Amazon Fights Climate Change, Also Fights Employees Fighting Climate Change
Amazon has decided to threaten to fire employees calling on the company to do more about climate change, according to tech workers who have been doing just that. The Washington Post, which is also owned by Amazon zillionaire Jeff Bezos, reports,
A lawyer in the e-commerce giant's employee-relations group sent a letter to two workers quoted in an October Washington Post report, accusing them of violating the company's external communications policy. An email sent to Maren Costa, a principal user-experience designer at the company, and reviewed by The Post warned that future infractions could "result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon.
The nastygram from the lawyer advised Costa to "review the policy again and in the future anytime you may consider speaking about Amazon's business in a public forum." And perhaps to consider what a nice job it is, and wouldn't it be a shame if something happened to it.
In that October story, Costa and another employee, Jamie Kowalski, said that Amazon was contributing to climate change by selling cloud computing services to the oil and gas industry. Amazon said the hell with that, it would continue doing business with anyone who needs cloud services. Amazon Web Services accounts for about 71 percent of the company's overall profits. (And let's not even get into the huge energy usage by server farms, an industry one expert estimates is responsible for two percent of global greenhouse emissions.)
An Amazon flack issued a statement explaining there's simply not any news here, and the company is simply re-emphasizing its policy that employees must get prior authorization to talk about Amazon's bidniss:
Our policy regarding external communications is not new and we believe is similar to other large companies [...] We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company's logo. As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed.
The warning to Costa acknowledged she didn't "knowingly violate" the policy, so she wouldn't face any disciplinary action. This time.
In a Twitter thread Monday, Amazon Employees For Climate Justice noted the revised policy went into effect in September, the day after the group announced its members would join the global climate strike, and added the company appears to be using corporate comms policy to stifle criticism (we'll just copy the text of three tweets here):
This policy change has nothing to do with sharing confidential company information; this change was made to explicitly forbid employees from speaking out about publicly available information, such as Amazon's partnerships with fossil fuel companies or the funding of lobbyists & think tanks who publicly deny climate change and/or actively work to suppress climate change legislation. Following this policy change, two of AECJ's leaders were warned to be silent or else face consequences, including termination of employment.
Climate change is an issue affecting every human today and in the future. We are Amazon employees and the fact is clear: Amazon is contributing to climate change. We cannot be silent while our families and communities suffer. By speaking up, we can make the company better.
The group also pointed out that at this time last year, Amazon wouldn't even set a date for sharing data on its climate footprint, but that after Amazon workers came together to demand better behavior, the company co-founded a group called "Climate Pledge" and made some firm commitments to reducing its impact on warming, like ordering 100,000 electric delivery vehicles -- from a manufacturer Amazon owns a part of, but hey, clean is clean. Amazon also pledged to power its own infrastructure with 100 percent green energy by 2030 and to commit $100 million to reforestation. That's good!
Asked if the company was trying to stifle its employees, Amazon flack Jaci Anderson didn't exactly tell the Post "no, definitely not." Instead she offered some lovely corporatespeak, saying employees
are "encouraged to work within their teams," including by "suggesting improvements to how we operate through those internal channels."
Ah yes. Like so many of our corporate citizens, who are people my friend, Amazon prefers the controversial stuff stay in quiet rooms.
So sure, half a cheer for Amazon's steps to go somewhat greener. But threatening employees to watch what they say? That's not the kind of chilling effect that will do life on this planet any good.
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