Bezos defends Amazon firing of activist employees


Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in Washington, DC, last year.

Eric Baradat / AFP/Getty Images

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos on Wednesday addressed a string of firings of activist employees at his company, following heavy criticism of the terminations, including by a group of US senators.

“We didn’t fire anyone for speaking out about working conditions,” Bezos said during Amazon’s virtual shareholder meeting Wednesday as part of a Q&A portion. “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employers working conditions, but that also doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to not follow internal policies. But for sure your rights to protest working conditions, we take that super seriously and we have no problem with that at all.”

Bezos’ comments come after his company fired six employees this year who were publicly criticizing Amazon. After getting fired, several of these activist employees, including warehouse worker Christian Smalls and tech employee Maren Costa, have become leading voices in a growing movement to push for improved working conditions at Amazon warehouses.

Amazon had often said these workers were fired for violations of different internal protocols and not for their activism. Smalls, for instance, was fired for violating a company-mandated quarantine. Costa was fired for using company resources to solicit fellow employees after she invited other workers to a virtual meeting about warehouse conditions. Still, nine US senators raised concerns about these terminations, writing a letter to Bezos this month asking for more information about the firings.

Costa spoke at the shareholder meeting Wednesday in a prerecorded statement to introduce one of the 12 shareholder proposals during the meeting. She called out the firings and asked Amazon to do more to curb climate change. She had been a leader of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice prior to her termination.

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Bezos was also asked if the increased scrutiny on Amazon as it’s gotten bigger would hurt its reputation. He said no. “I think scrutiny will enhance our reputation with customers,” he said, adding: “It’s completely normal that we be scrutinized. And we want people to know the truth about Amazon, and how we use our scale for good and how we work hard and we will work hard to explain that.”

Bezos has regularly mentioned this position in past public statements, saying as a large and important company, Amazon should be scrutinized. 

He was also asked if he thought Prime membership, at $119 a year, was getting too expensive. “No,” Bezos said. “We continue to dramatically undercharged for Prime relative to the value we create for customers, and that is the strategy.”

Also, to counter some of the negative attention about Amazon workers getting sick from the coronavirus, the company started its shareholder meeting with a series of promotional videos to show off its work to protect its employees and distribute products like masks and sanitizers.

All the shareholder proposals were voted down, as Amazon’s board recommended. Getting any of these proposals passed is a difficult feat, because Bezos controls 15% of the company’s stock and major financial shareholders like Vanguard and BlackRock often back the board’s requests. These proposals included calls for a report on food waste, a request for gender and racial pay equity and a push to separate the CEO and chairman positions, with both spots currently held by Bezos.

Amazon’s entire slate of board members were voted in and the company’s own proposals were approved, including a move to trigger a special meeting with the backing of 25% of shareholder ownership, down from 30%.

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