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Amazon’s unchecked power scrutinised by international group of unions, tax experts, regulators, activists, and legislators

The Brussels symposium was the first of its kind to hold a spotlight to Amazon’s growing control over economies and societies. Amazon’s tightening grip over a growing swath of modern life was put under a microscope today during a symposium hosted by international trade unions, UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). For the first time, unions, policy makers, activists and academics held a global gathering to consider appropriate regulations and other checks on Amazon’s power in an era of technological dominance.

“Amazon’s social contract is broken when workers don’t matter, their rights are denied, as it threatens our economies, democracy and it contributes dangerous levels of emissions to the climate crisis. Amazon has been put on notice, its unchecked power in defiance of national regulation is now in the spotlight,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

“Amazon has acquired unparalleled influence, and it presents an unparalleled threat. Its business practices erode working standards, marketplaces, and our environment,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union.

“This symposium is a necessary step towards joining stakeholders’ power across issues and across continents to make the company fulfil its social responsibilities. Today, we moved closer to a common understanding about the effect of Amazon’s power and also about the dangers of allowing one of the world’s largest corporations—led by the world’s richest man—to call the shots that determine our future,” said Ms Hoffman.

Five panels discussed Amazon’s record on labour rights and paying taxes, it’s monopoly power, privacy and digital rights and Amazon’s response to the climate crisis.

Werner Stengg, Head of Unit E-commerce and Platforms DG Connect and joined the Cabinet of Margrethe Vestager, one of Europe’s leading competition regulators gave a keynote. Other participants includeded MEPs Evelyn Regner and Iban Garcia del Blanco along with Peter Eberl, Deputy Head of Unit for Cybersecurity and Digital Privacy Policy, European Commission, BEUC representative, Ursula Pachl, trade unions and NGOs.

Evelyn Regner, an S&D MEP from Austria told the meeting, “as a digital giant, Amazon has turned the retail world upside down. The bitter afterthought, however, is that the company name is now synonymous with price dumping and tremendous pressure on workers. In addition, when it comes to creative tax planning, Amazon is world champion. In 2018, Amazon made profits of over US$11 billion, but paid zero income tax in the US. It is estimated that Amazon avoided €250 million in European income taxes between 2006 and 2014. These figures show how broken the global tax system is and how direly we need a fundamental reform. In the European context this calls for the immediate introduction of a real digital tax and measures to stop the destructive tax competition between member states.”

In a video message, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Leader of the UK Labour Party, said “Amazon is a trillion-dollar company, owned and controlled by one of the wealthiest men in the world: Jeff Bezos. The company’s treatment of its workers is dehumanising, and employees shouldn’t have to face the unsafe working practices in Amazon’s fulfilment centres and its last mile drop courier operations, here in the UK and globally. Not only are Amazon failing their workers, they fail to pay their fair share of taxes. Just think, if Amazon paid their taxes, how many doctors would that provide? How many new nurses would be provided? How many more teachers would we have?”

From the United states, Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Abdi Muse, Executive Director of the Awood Center in Minneapolis, and Stuart Appelbaum, Chair of the Amazon Global Alliance gave insights into fights against Amazon that have originated in the USA where Amazon has it’s HQ.

While politicians in the United States are confronting these issues in the run up to the 2020 election, unions are calling on political leaders in Europe to live up to the EU’s commitment to a renewed social contract by:

Breaking up Amazon with the reform of competition policy;
Regulating for a labour protection floor for all workers as agreed in the ILO Centenary Declaration;
Ensuring corporate tax is paid where it’s earned;
Protecting individual and national data privacy to ensure consent, compensation, and accountability from the company’s extraction of our information.

“Fair competition, privacy, taxation, human and labour rights with freedom of association and collective bargaining are not outdated principles and standards. Amazon must be broken up and forced to respect the social contract as a basis for doing business,” said Ms Burrow.

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