Wednesday, May 6, 2020

As Amazon Executive Quits Over Company Policy Abuses What Will the Future Hold for Businesses?

Vice President 'Despised' Group's Behaviour
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – In reporting on the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) Conference in March, we headlined on the changing face of business. In this day and age, and probably more so when the viral dust has settled, more and more customers want to know their purchases are environmentally neutral at the least, and produced using standards nobody will latterly be ashamed of. And these standards apply equally to the logistics companies responsible for delivery to the end user.

This week’s resignation of Tim Bray, the Amazon executive who felt he could no longer work for a company he says deliberately dismissed whistleblowers who complained their work places were unsafe as insufficient measures were being taken to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak, may in time prove to be a watershed in labour relations.

Such accusations of course are hardly new. The current batch of complaints range far and wide, and it is a fact that, where there are large quantities of logistics and retail distribution companies operating in a relatively small geographical area, coronavirus cases are regularly recorded and doubts raised over standards of care, particularly in a ‘shop floor’ environment where the possibility of guidelines being breached is ever present.

In Memphis for example, where there is such a concentration, workers for FedEx, Nike and Kroger have reported dozens of positive tests, and jewellery and make up distributor PFS was accused of only offering personal protective equipment to permanent, not temporary, workers. Worryingly in the Amazon case Bray points out that all the leading figures he mentions were dismissed, are people of colour, women, or both.

Bray states that his resignation will cost him over a million dollars, but that his dissatisfaction originates from last year when he signed, along with thousands of others, a motion to shareholders calling for the company to take action on climate change, a motion that was not passed. When the company’s inaction led to a walkout by workers, the company relented but gave no credit to the protestors, threatening them with dismissal says Bray.

Whilst Bray’s blog, which can be read in full here, is scathing in parts, he refers to ‘brutally insensitive’ remarks, he is not wholly critical of his former employer, he accepts that ‘you can’t turn a supertanker on a dime’ but says his disgust at people being sacked for rightfully complaining that the company was neglectful in its duty of care to its staff was simply too much.

The question now is will such actions by a high profile executive such as Tim Bray engender a sea change across the industry. Certainly at Amazon the effect is bound to be positive, even the biggest online presence cannot surely ignore such bad publicity. However we have seen a variety of abuse cases across the logistics spectrum with accusations of unnecessary redundancies to save money and underpayment of wages, to sexual harassment and gender inequality issues, yet nothing seems to change.

Let us hope post virus that ever more consumers and purchasers will ensure that not only their own particular link in the supply chain is above reproach when it comes to treatment of workers, but that upstream so too is that of their suppliers. After all, when the crisis subsides, the economic outlook is likely to be gloomy for many, a recipe for more potential abuses in the field of employment.