#MakeAmazonPay: Golriz Ghahraman 'proud' to sign international letter urging Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to 'pay his debts'

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman (left) and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman (left) and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Photo credit: Facebook / Golriz Ghahraman; Getty

Golriz Ghahraman is "proud" to have signed an international letter on behalf of the Greens urging Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to pay his debts to the planet and his employees.

The global campaign, led by Progressive International, has signatories from 400 lawmakers in 34 countries, including US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

The #MakeAmazonPay campaign takes aim at Bezos, the world's richest man who enjoys a net worth of US$190 billion according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index, while many of his employees are expected to work long hours on low wages. 

Amazon sales surged during the coronavirus pandemic. During its first-quarter earnings call, the company announced its highest sales growth in over three years. In October it reported net income of US$6.3 billion in the third quarter compared to US$2.1 billion the same time last year. 

"Your great wealth is based on the skills of your workers and the care they receive from their friends, family and communities. These are the very people who risked their health and that of their loved ones to supply goods to consumers and make you enormous profits," the letter reads. 

"But while your personal wealth has risen by around US$13 million per hour in 2020, these workers enter dangerous working conditions, enjoy little or no increase in their pay, and face retaliation for their efforts to defend themselves and organize their colleagues."

Ghahraman, the Green Party's human rights spokesperson, says the world watched as Amazon made "obscene profits" while "actively avoiding their obligations on paying tax, exploiting the environment, and abusing workers' rights". 

The Seattle-based multinational tech giant, the world's largest online marketplace, has been accused of tax avoidance, anti-competitive behaviour, and turning a blind eye to its hyper-competitive and demanding work culture. 

#MakeAmazonPay: Golriz Ghahraman 'proud' to sign international letter urging Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to 'pay his debts'
Photo credit: Screenshot

In 2017 and 2018, Amazon paid zero US federal corporation tax. 

"Your monopolistic practices have squeezed small businesses, your web services have disrespected data rights, and you have contributed a pittance in return," the letter reads.

Ghahraman wants New Zealanders to unite behind the campaign. 

"It is important that Aotearoa condemns multinational organisations who reap mammoth profits, whilst evading tax, trashing our environment, and underpaying workers," she says.  

"I am sure that if all New Zealanders knew the harmful practices of Amazon, they wouldn't be using their platform to purchase overseas products. I am proud to sign on to this letter demanding better from Amazon."

Amazon sees it differently

"While as a large company we welcome scrutiny from policymakers, the matters raised in this letter stem from a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who appear to be using Amazon's profile to further their individual causes," a spokesperson told Newshub. 

"Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions of dollars in taxes globally. We look forward to continued dialogue with interested parties on these topics."

Bezos said in October: "Two years ago, we increased Amazon's minimum wage to US$15 for all full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees across the US and challenged other large employers to do the same."

In March, Amazon announced it would raise pay for warehouse and delivery workers by $2 per hour in the US amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the policy was rolled back in May. 

A second policy of allowing workers to take unlimited unpaid time off so they could stay home if they had COVID-19 was also removed. According to reports, thousands of Amazon workers have had COVID-19 and eight had died as of May. 

Amazon announced it was creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs around the world for people at all skill levels and stages of their career, including 100,000 new permanent jobs with "at least" US$15 per hour.

It also included thousands of other jobs in India and around the world but there were no details provided about how much those workers would be paid. 

Responding to concerns over its environmental footprint, Amazon launched Climate Pledge Friendly, a programme that identifies products with sustainability certifications, making it easy for customers to discover them in Amazon's store. 

Amazon also announced Compact by Design, a sustainability certification for products with a more efficient design that "leads to carbon emission reductions by requiring less packaging or less frequent purchases by customers".

But the sustainability efforts have failed to impress the #MakeAmazonPay movement. 

"While you have personally acknowledged the climate emergency among the defining challenges of our era, Amazon's carbon footprint is greater than two-thirds of the world's countries," the letter reads. 

"Your plan for emissions reduction is both insufficient to stay within the environmental boundaries of our planet and difficult to trust given Amazon's record of broken promises on sustainability and financial contributions to climate change denial."

The Government announced during the election campaign plans to work with the OECD to find a solution to the issue of multi-national corporations not paying their share of tax.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government is prepared to implement a Digital Services Tax (DST). Projections from IRD estimate a DST will raise between $30 million and $80 million of revenue a year.