Amazon's mid-Covid gains exemplifies Bezos' legacy of greed.

April 17, 2020

Jeff, with great power comes great responsibility.

 

Yesterday the BBC reported on the increased share value of a number of businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It focussed on the gains made by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who, it reported, had added $24 billion to his value, taking his total wealth to $138 billion. Is it time to start demanding more from the ubiquitous Amazon?

 

That $138 billion is Bezos' personal wealth. Amazon's value is upwards of $1 trillion, a world record hit following a successful 2019 Christmas period. It's both surprising and not-very surprising at all.

 

The 'King of Cybercommerce' definitely knows how to get us to spend our money. When you combine that with the fact Amazon's whole core model is based around non-contact delivery to your door, adding further its Prime Now and Prime Video products feeding the need for distraction during such stressful times, it was obvious the company would do well in light of the lockdown measures. 

 

The forthcoming economic recession is inevitable. The IMF predicts the UK's economy will shrink by 6.5%. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, that number was 4.2%—from which the fallout led to years of austerity and the emergence of food banks. Despite government measures to offer furlough support to employers, incentivising staff retention, many mall and local businesses are set to shut up shop for good; the yet-to-be-realised victims of this virus. Redundancies are unavoidable. Pubs had been shutting down at a rate of one every 12 hours before the pandemic hit. Whether any of them make it through to the other side of this crisis is anyone's guess. 

 

They say in crisis, there's opportunity. Bezos has definitely seized to it capitalise on the crisis. There is a hope, however, that isolation has provided people with the luxury of getting to know their neighbours, reconnecting and finding that community spirit again. As we clap every Thursday evening in gratitude of our NHS workers, hope is perhaps not so misguided; that this community spirit could be rekindled, the recession shared in, local businesses buffered by local community support in the face of hardship.That a reversion back to pre-internet behaviours will outlast the lockdown. Such behaviours would undoubtedly see a reduction in Amazon's arrogance and profit margins.

 

Amazon relies on the perception of 'most convenient', 'cost-effective', if not 'cheapest'. Smart subscribers are acutely aware this is not the reality. In a post-virus depression, it is difficult to see where spare cash will come from to maintain such levels of Amazon spend.

 

Amazon workers already had a raw deal prior to the measures coming into force. Reports of poor working conditions, long shifts and terrible pay led Amazon to start putting on 'Look how wonderful it is to work at Amazon' TV ads during prime time programming. Unsurprisingly, many have felt that Amazon's store is not essential enough to risk the lives of its workers during the pandemic. At £10.50 per hour (London rate), it is hard to see how a $1trillion-company is compensating such dedicated staff fairly.

 

Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, is the poster boy for business equality. He speaks of his suppressed desire to compete for the accolade of 'Richest Man'. Yet his staff are so loyal and grateful for the personal sacrifices he's made, they bought him a fancy car. Accolade in hand, Bezos can buy his own cars. Why the King of Getting Rich can buy his own anything—cue world-domination laugh.

 

Yet, money will never buy that level of loyalty and love. If Simon Sinek's stripes are to be respected (and many would say not), leaders eat last. Bezos is resolutely not eating last and like Trump and his daughter, neither is he leading by example—perhaps a more palatable principle. Divorced from his long-standing partner, Bezos' legacy, as it currently stands, will be one associated with avarice—awkward alongside austerity, no?

 

Bezos is one of five known American billionaires who has yet to sign The Giving Pledge. His ex-wife, MacKenzie, has pledged to give 50% of her wealth to charitable causes over her lifetime. The Pledge, set up by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010, has roughly 170 members. This is not to say Bezos is without a heart. Reports say some $700,000 was pledged to help fund relief during the Australian wildfires. No doubt Bezos is frequently asked to attend black tie charity functions, such is the depth of his pockets. Though such commitments are commendable, the area of charitable giving is a grey one, especially when it comes to tax. Certain taxes or charges can be offset if a company reports charitable giving, so such philanthropy is rarely altruistic.

 

And what's that old adage? Charity begins at home. 

 

Arguably, as crisis besets the world on many fronts, it's maybe time to start demanding that Amazon's "keyworkers", risking their lives in these difficult times, are rewarded with a jaw-dropping pay increase, enabling them to weather the impeding storm (and perhaps provide the requisite galoshes for family and friends.) With its reach into so many markets, such a decision could be the single most globally effective move made and cement Bezos and Amazon as saviours of a situation they have currently worked to their own benefit.

 

With $138 billions, King Bezos can afford to share and surely that's a better legacy.

 

 

 

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