Open letter to Jeff Bezos: Amazon or Anabaptist?

Jul 17, 2018 by

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Dear Mr. Bezos,

The opposition of Amazon (hereafter referred to as “your company”) to a tax law to help the homeless in Seattle was the last straw. Let me explain.

After your company stopped construction on a new office building in protest over a previous law, you felt the watered-down version of the tax bill the city council passed in May was still too much. So you continued to pressure the council until it buried compassion at the feet of the god of capitalism to rescind even this edict in June.

Therefore, I have decided that I can no longer in good conscience remain a Prime member and customer of Amazon.

Here are some comparative figures:

As of June 2018, there are more than 12,000 homeless in and around Seattle. This does not include the 33,000 people who live and work in unsafe buildings, according to The Seattle Times.

Currently, your company has approximately 40,000 employees in Seattle, who work in the 8.1 million square feet of office space you control which is almost 20 percent of all of the prime office space in the city. I suspect the majority of your employees do not live in unsafe housing and their ability to pay high rents is one of the main reasons there is a housing crisis in Seattle.

Over the past year, homelessness in the Seattle area has increased by 4 percent, while your company’s North American revenue alone for 4Q 2017 rose 42 percent.

The May 2018 version of the city council tax bill would have raised $47 million dollars per year. Your company’s net income for just the 4Q of 2017 was $1.9 billion, which included a tax benefit of $789 million due to the change in U.S. tax code.

This is particularly troubling. Your company received $789 million in tax benefits and you couldn’t even support a paltry $47 million tax to help the homeless in your home town?

Furthermore, as I learned while researching this article, this is only one of the most recent in a long line of troubling business practices and decisions made by your company.

There have been several reports detailing the poor working conditions for warehouse employees in your company, namely that they barely have time to go to the bathroom and can be fired for being sick. And the contractors your company hires to deliver packages as part of Amazon Flex fare even worse.

Your company has a history of fierce opposition to unionization so the workers described above and others are not able to advocate for and force better working conditions. Or in the case of your company’s recent takeover of Whole Foods, they have very little say in a decision that caused a significant amount of layoffs and brought about a culture change in the way Whole Foods does business.

The Guardian has reported that your company has been marketing and selling Amazon Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies, a decision which poses a grave threat to personal privacy and individual freedom. Nor am I comfortable with your continued monopoly over the “internet of things” or your Echo, Alexa, Key and Blink tentacles that reach inside my house and into the intimate details of my life.

And more recently, The Washington Post (which you own and I still subscribe to for now) reported that your company continues to profit from the sale of white supremacist propaganda and products, in direct violation of your company’s policy against selling products that promote hate.

You continue to raise the fee for Prime membership, up $20 from last year and $40 from 5 years ago, to $120 annually. Even your student Prime membership is going up from $49 to $59. You claim you offer additional benefits, but it seems a little greedy to me for you to keep raising the fee with all of the profits you continue to make off of your Prime members.

This does not take into account the multitude of storefront bookstores that you forced out of business early on when books were the primary products you sold. Since then you have expanded into anything and everything, much to the detriment of small businesses everywhere. Now I learn you might for all practical purposes become a pharmaceutical company.

But even without all of your shoddy business dealings, after I leave behind the magic of clicking a mouse and having an item appear on my doorstep, the product you sell is really not all that great. Like all good snake oil salesmen though, you have marketed convenience and created a demand that does not exist. If I get off my rear end and shop locally, I can usually find something at a lower price and of a decidedly higher quality. But even if I pay more, I have the satisfaction of contributing to my local economy, supporting local artisans and small businesses, and perhaps in my small way am helping to strengthen my community.

I have caught a glimpse of the future you are pulling us towards and I do not like it. I must confess that your siren song has lured me away from the Anabaptist values I grew up with:

  • A belief in community and in the equal and significant value of every precious member of that community.
  • A belief in living simply so others may simply live.
  • A belief in speaking up for the voiceless, advocating for those who cannot do so themselves, and working to end any and all forms of injustice.
  • A belief in the way of peace and in practicing nonviolence in all of my life choices, including where and what I buy.
  • A belief in service and in helping others in any and every way I can.
  • A belief in being a good steward of my time, talents and money, spending such in a way that honors God and the values I have listed above.

I have come to the conclusion that your company is the antithesis to these values. Therefore, since I cannot serve both God and Mammon (Matt. 6:24), I am choosing to serve God. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to come to this decision. I ask God’s forgiveness for the damage I may have caused another by my collusion with your company. I continue to pray that your company will cease to worship at the altar of profit and that you will be grounded in your past to be driven by an obsession with compassion, rather than with customers.

And may God, so rich in grace and slow to anger, have mercy on all of our souls.

Sincerely,

Keith M. Lyndaker

Keith Lyndaker Schlabach lives near Washington D.C. and is the managing editor for PeaceSigns, the online newsletter for Peace and Justice Support Network Mennonite Church USA. He blogs at PeaceGrooves, where this post first appeared.


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