Offering access to unlimited quick free-delivery, a free streaming service and discounts on thousands of products daily, Amazon has focused its target on placing the student at the forefront of its business interests. Handing out an initial six-month free subscription, with a discounted student subscription cost thereafter, you may have seen some people you know promote this new deal on their Instagram stories. Prime Student is exactly what it is: primed for the student and this new offer is aimed at easing the student’s descent into their hoped-for lifetime of Amazon loyalty.
Although an undeniably good offer – especially for the student who may be reluctant to purchase items due to shipment costs, or those not able to afford Prime Video to binge Criminal Minds – it comes across as something which is almost too good to be true. Luckily, for the consumer, there’s little to no catch: but is such an accessible service placing more strain on workers who are notoriously known for being overworked? Is a service like Amazon and its Prime feature, offered to us through startlingly white websites, hiding the degraded conditions its workers are suffering through? Is Amazon, quite simply, too easy a shopping instinct for many of us?
Amazon, founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos initially functioned as an online bookstore, hosting a range more books than would be readily available in any independent or chain bookstore. It took Bezos almost seven years to get Amazon out of debt, and in the process of doing so, Bezos ruthlessly devalued almost every product available on the service: mass availability of products on Amazon drove down the prices of almost everything and prioritised the consumer gaining the most amount of products for as little as possible. Although advantageous for the consumer, the importance of the worker also devalued with the rapid upscaling and extreme growth in popularity Amazon experienced over the years. Offering scopes of products beyond just books, almost anything can now be found on Amazon; quite often for a price lower than can be found on the high street.
In order for the large service to function as efficiently as it does, a mass amount of workers are required to fulfil each step of the consumer’s online order. As of July 2020, Amazon employs over 1,000,000 workers ranging from minimum-wage warehouse workers to more well-paid advisors. Amazon’s warehouse services almost buckled under the increase in online orders over the initial lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hiring an extra 175,000 workers to cope with the increase in demand from the public.
Over the years, Amazon has come under fire for the treatment of its workers. Recently, Amazon’s workplace ethics were examined by Californian officials: it was reported by workers inside its warehouses that adequate time was not granted to employees to ensure social distancing measures were capable of being adhered to. The reason? Employees were under immense pressure to fulfil their hourly packing rate. An ongoing issue throughout the years is employees feeling as if they are being treated like robots by the conglomerate: the GMB – a general trade union in the United Kingdom – reported that 80% of members of the union at Amazon suffered injury as a result of working under high-pressure at Amazon.
Being overworked is also a major issue for certain employees of the American company. Workers in warehouses in the United States made barely enough to clear the federal poverty line – which might partly be one of the main reasons Bezos is one of the richest men in the world. There are frequent reports of people working 12+ hour shifts, as well as documented evidence of machine trackers warning people of when they are working too slow for the company standards. In her essay on scammers of the modern age, Jia Tolentino refers to a time in which Amazon, instead of installing air-conditioning units which would prove costly during a Pennsylvanian heatwave, instead parked ambulances at the doors of the warehouse to cater to those who collapsed from the heat; purely because it was more cost-efficient for the company to do so.
A company so focused on the consumer and their satisfaction interestingly takes little to no interest in its many workers: those who are, essentially, the backbone of the company. Exacting so much human effort in such short spaces of time comes at a great cost: you only have to question if a worker collapsing from exhaustion is worth having 65p Reese’s Cups delivered to your door the next day. It may seem harmless – even fun – having the capability of getting such goods delivered in such little time, but the further you delve into the functioning of a corporation like Amazon, the more cruel the conditions seem to be for those trying to survive in a harsh capitalist world. But, the temptation of such ease is often too much for the everyday person, and who wants to be shamed – or shame anyone else – for using a service which is so often so convenient?
While staying clear of Amazon entirely may not be the first thought to jump into your mind – it is worth considering shopping more local, and supporting those smaller businesses struggling in these current times. In fact, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (ISME) reports that “€10 spent locally is equivalent to generating more than €40 of benefit to the local community in terms of employment.” Although many local businesses in Ireland are now shut due to recently implemented Level 5 restrictions, it is worth checking which local businesses are operating online and how you, as a member of the local community, can support them. You can source great quality products from Irish SMEs on Guaranteed Irish Gifts or view a list of Irish retailers published by The Irish Times here.