Business & Economy

Amazon reigns supreme during pandemic, but faces criticism over worker safety

By Marc Arcas

San Francisco, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Inc.’s sales volume has jumped and its share price has climbed to record levels as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to stay afloat amid coronavirus-triggered lockdowns, but the e-commerce and technology giant also is facing a public relations backlash amid criticism about its workplace safety measures during the pandemic.

With much of the United States population under stay-at-home orders aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, the Seattle-based multinational is experiencing a bump in traffic typically seen only at Christmas season and may emerge stronger than ever after the crisis has passed.

While Amazon already had a stranglehold on the e-commerce market prior to the pandemic, it has further bolstered its position over the past few weeks and hired 175,000 new workers in the US alone.

“It’s important to figure out if this is a surge in demand, or just a shift in which channel is preferred for the same, or even reduced, demand,” William Harris, an e-commerce expert and founder of growth marketing agency Elumynt.

A definitive picture of the future retail landscape will have to wait until the health emergency has subsided and the stores reopen.

But even as Amazon wields its competitive advantages during the crisis it also is facing complaints from workers who say the company is neglecting their health, as well as enhanced scrutiny from regulators concerned the company’s increased market share could further encourage monopolistic tendencies.

On Tuesday, while the company was trading at a record high of more than $2,200 per share on Wall Street, the news that it had fired two tech workers for complaining about a lack of coronavirus protective measures caused a public relations headache.

Amazon said those Seattle-based employees had “repeatedly” violated its internal policies by going public with their criticisms, but other workers also have been dismissed for complaining about working conditions or organizing protests.

These actions, and the fact that coronavirus cases have been confirmed in at least 74 warehouses and other Amazon facilities in the US, led several lawmakers to send a letter to the company demanding explanations and prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to order an investigation into the firing of a worker who organized a strike at its warehouse on Staten Island.

Recent concerns about worker safety amid the coronavirus are in addition to previous allegations of monopolistic practices by Amazon, which has been the target of several investigations in the US.

Amazon’s share of the American e-commerce market is roughly 40 percent, a level that far outpaces rivals such as Walmart and Apple that sell a more limited range of products.

And it is now further consolidating its dominance due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, according to financial news network CNBC, using that strength to substantially lower the commission it pays to so-called “Amazon Associates” (members of an advertising affiliate program – including online publishers like The New York Times – that advertise and link to Amazon products in exchange for a percentage of the sales).

Harris, however, does not believe Amazon will be the lone beneficiary of the crisis among e-commerce companies, noting that the fact the multinational is so big “creates opportunities for smaller, niche stars to emerge.”



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