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Seattle Times Slams Amazon for Working Conditions, Lack of Philanthropy

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By , dealnews Copy Editor

In its 18 short years, Amazon's bargain prices and its logotype A to Z arrow (or customer satisfaction "smile") have earned the company worldwide notoriety, and Amazon is now one of the biggest online retailers in the world. But if you've been reading The Seattle Times' scathing series of reports, Amazon isn't as idyllic of a company as some may have thought. With purported grievances that run the gamut from sales tax evasion to poor warehouse "fulfillment center" conditions, to a glaring lack of philanthropy, the Times suggests that Amazon's image, especially in its home base of Seattle, has become a source of contention amongst the community, the company's peers, and even its employees. But if you're getting the deals you crave, readers, do you care?

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1995, and what began as an online bookstore, has emerged as a major player in consumer goods, from books to baby food and beyond. Amazon's office — formerly a garage in Seattle — now occupies the most real estate in the downtown area. But its growth is in some ways uncharted, as the company won't acknowledge how many of its employees actually work in its Seattle facilities. And speaking of working, in another part of its series, The Seattle Times reports on how Amazon's striving for efficiency is costing workers their health and their jobs.

Running a tight ship is crucial for a growing company, but The Seattle Times also points out that the company's most widely acknowledged shortcoming is its lack of charitable giving. The company's physical proximity to Microsoft (and thereby, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) makes Amazon's lack of donations to the likes of the Alliance for Education, the Seattle Art Museum, and the United Way even more stark. The Times article even quotes an interviewee that compares Bezos to the late Steve Jobs of Apple, who many considered to be skeptical of philanthropy. That's not to say that Amazon hasn't contributed to some foundations (Amazon donated amounts between $1,000 and $10,000 to a variety of Seattle nonprofits, from the Pike Place Market Foundation to the Rainier Valley Food Bank), but its scale of giving pales in comparison to its profits.

On the flip side of the argument, Amazon supporters hammer home the notion that the company operates on very tight profit margins and, in an effort to keep growing itself as a business, cannot contribute in the same ways its competitors do. Bezos himself believes that, like Steve Jobs, his company itself gives back to communities by offering technologies that have positive impacts on education, commerce, and people's general well-being.

But is a tight profit margin an excuse for not playing an active and sizable role in the community? Or is a company's focus on its business model striving to deliver constantly low prices to its consumers more important? Sound off in the comments. And to read more from The Seattle Times' series on Amazon, click here.

Front page photo credit: Personal Money


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30 comments
FredK1226
Amazon may not put forth the same philanthropic efforts as other major companies do. But I put forth the following hypothesis:

With the money I save at Amazon, which would've been spent on goods at a big box store at a (perceived) cheap price. I am far more likely to buy items at independent, local, or small businesses, knowing that yes, for some items I am paying more, but I have savings in the bank because of my Amazon shopping habits. Can that not qualify as more direct philanthropy? A people prior to me commented on their employment habits. Their temp habits are no different than many other business, to include a company I work for, we hire a swarm of temps in Jan, Feb, Mar, for 90 days (30+ for my store) and they will typically end up keeping only 2 or 3 when it's all said and done.  Also, warehouse and Distribution center work is tough, hard, miserable work, even if the cooling temps are set in the 70's the total heat output of labor and equipment simply overwhelms all HVAC systems and would require massive cooling capacity, that's why these places tend to get hot, but that is also why we have OSHA to keep these things under some control.

Their apparent lack of philanthropy is saddening, but Bezos has contributed money to technology development and scientific endeavors that could advance humanity, I'm sure donating to a local food kitchen looks good on the Ink and E-Ink, but I think the Seattle Rag is trying to fabricate controversy and has an axe to grind to sell papers.
nofooling
I have mixed feeling about Amazon. I have bought products from the company and generally have been pleased with the products, service and ability to return products easily. I have used the Amazon marketplace and do not find it to be aa good an experience. No one has talked about Amazon and it employment strategies. Amazon has large warehouses in the Northern Ky ( Cincinnati) area and hires many temps through there SMX subsidiary who get to work for 90 days- with 5 or 10 our of hundreds offered .  I have no idea what kind of place Amazon is to work for in Seattle, but thousands of former Amazon temps are in my area.
jcauthorn
The question must be asked: How much profit does the Seattle Times donate to Philanthropy? And who are they to judge how much a different company should give, if any at all? Perhaps they are simply envious of the growth and success of Amazon?Full disclosure: I enjoy shopping at Amazon because they provide a valuable service. I have never voluntarily given a penny to The Seattle Times for any reason because I find they provide nothing of value. ;)
Woodlander
Interestingly enough, though... and what I think rubs me the wrong way... "But if you're getting the deals you crave, readers, do you care?"
Dealnews makes money off our purchases off of the sites they link to. Don't misunderstand, I am grateful for them, and would not be able to fund their research as a single consumer, so love that the online stores pick up the tab for Dealnews to do such a great job!
However, shouldn't the article have made mention of that? "But if you're getting the deals you crave, readers, do you care?..." then added "We at Dealnews think the values they afford us to give you help to drive our bottom line affording us the money to contribute to the charities we do, such as..."
Should deal news not link to deals on Nike because they allegedly had small children making their shoes?
I like Amazon a ton. They enable me to purchase items conveniently, affordably and from the comfort of my own home/phone/whereever. Not having to go out shopping as much affords me more time with my family. That's a good thing.
If Amazon is as bad as alleged, the workers will let us know "with their feet" leaving their jobs, and when the good ones go, the quality of service will decline. Then they won't be as good to shop from, then I'll stop.
The free marketplace bears all this out... no need for smear pieces, (although ironic that the Times uses the story bashing Amazon's harsh and crass capitalistic ways to sell papers, which in turn fund its own capitalistic(ish) venture).
Lastly.... Americans allegedly hate the China import situation, and believe we should do "all that we can" to keep jobs here in the US... yet continue to buy Chinese made cheap products every chance they get. To paraphrase Ayn Rand - contradictions don't exist... whenever you see one, go back and check your premises, you'll find one of them was wrong.
geneb5
No critic addresses the meat of the article; most simply work like little demons to smear anyone who would dare to talk about it. Everyone gets slammed--dealnews, the Seattle Times writer, the Seattle Times itself, Seattle itself, King County, Washington state and perhaps most of all, those dastardly anti-free-marketers(!)

This perfectly encapsulates the sad state of our vile, ugly, snark-laden discourse today.

(Some good points have been made, worthy of discussion, but they are very few and far between.)
toddcovelli
Amazon=Capitalism and opportunity, THAT is why the Seattle Times hates them with a passion.
al_Austin
Also my first post. 
gnopgipdeals, you are right.
I just wanted to add that the best philanthropy a company can do is to be profitable and be able to afford the salary of their employees. That salary will help build schools, parks, fund all kinds of charities, etc. Being an efficient company will help the community a great deal. 
jbwhite99
I agree with the bent of the article in that if Target or Walmart, in order to compete with Amazon on price, decided to cut out charitable giving, there woud be a problem.  Large companies need to hold good standing in the cities they are headquartered in.  Raleigh, where I live, is going to lose their largest 2 companies due to mergers this year, which means a lot of philanthropy could be cut.

In terms of sales tax - remember that if you buy from Amazon, you are obligated to pay USE TAX that is equivalent to sales tax.  Please file this with your state tax returns.  Sales Tax is a nightmare to track - there are thousands of different rates - and things are taxed differently in different states.  Newspapers are taxed in some states; software is taxed differently if it is downloaded vs physical CDs, some states tax warranties and shipping, some don't.  If states would come up with a common set of rules, then I think companies should be able to collect and pay.  It doesn't matter if rates are different (or set them at 6% - doesn't matter) - if the rules were simple, companies should be able to collect.
Arley
As a parent of a child with Asperger's Syndrome, I want to thank you, Dealnews, for your contributions to the Riley Center.
r9blake
* No retailer charges sales tax. Some are required to collect it and pass what they collect to the state, but I think it's the rare seller that does so because of a sense of civic duty or because it is good for business. When the regulations are changed or disputes over current laws are settled then Amazon and other e-tailers may also begin collecting sales tax. When that happens we will continue doing business with them unless they offered no advantage over alternatives except the tax savings. I don't see that as the case.
* If Amazon and other online retailers provide purchasers with savings over local vendors, they provide more than just money in buyers' accounts. They enable their customers to use some of those savings to make charitable contributions to the organizations of their choice, perhaps in their own communities - and deduct it from their income. Is that not preferable to paying a higher price so that Amazon can decide where those dollars are donated - and deduct from their income?
gnopgipdeals
This is also my first post on DealNews. Nothing strikes my fancy more than economic stuff, therefore all the surfing on a website devoted to deals.  That said, this is not a deals story, but rather a political one, and I have to comment because of the current political landscape.  I am only going to deal on the topic of donation, and not the other ones of workplace safety, etc, because of time.

As certain political parties would have you believe, it is our duty to help those who can't help themselves; and there is absolutely nothing wrong with philanthropy and generously giving of oneself.  This makes us human and allows us to serve our fellow human being.  HOWEVER, there is a big difference between volunteering your time, your tithe, whatever your offering is, and being FORCED to, a la taxes to support things like welfare.  And in Amazon's case as shown by the Seattle Times article, forced "charitable giving."  
A company's main one purpose in life is to make money!!  Everything else is secondary, including giving it away whether to employees that earned it or to charities or other moochers in the town.  Now if a company is smart, it might give to local charities to improve its public image, so that it can therefore do more business.  Certainly lots of companies boast of their charitable giving, which I assume makes customers feel better about parting their money with such a standup company.  But ultimately, that is the company's, including its shareholders and board of directors', decision. How does pointing a metaphorical gun to its head to force contributions change anything.  It only gives the impression to outfits like the Seattle Times that they might be able to force other companies to do the same thing and increase donations.  But who does that help?  The article mentions organizations like the Alliance for Education and the Art Museum, but why are they more deserving than other nonprofits?  Why only mention those names, unless its an agenda to increase donations to them. And how much is enough?  1% of profits?  10% of profits?  Where is the "proper" limit of donation?  Would the companies in question become "better citizens" just because they were shamed to give more rather than giving it up willingly?  Or is the agenda of the article only to extract more money from the companies, in which case how has that made the company any "better."

I suspect the Times could open up the books of any company and criticize their choice (or lack) of charitable giving whether it be the amount or the recipient.  How has this changed the fact that the company didn't do what was perceived as right in the first place.  Therefore I see this article as trying to achieve extortion through public opinion.  Perhaps the authors will sleep better at night because of their "work" to get more money out, but perhaps they might look at themselves and disclose the Seattle Times charitable giving, just to be fair.

Ultimately, this story irritates me because it clicks very nicely with this entitlement society and narrative we have going on right now in the USA.  Nobody is owed anything, including nonprofits. If the charity is doing good and meaningful work that is valued in the community, it will no doubt raise money honestly from good people and organizations.  History has shown us that Americans are very willing to give and have supported many meaningful organizations just through donations.  And hopefully these organizations will continue to do work that is worthy of generosity.  They do not need a bully forcing people to give to their cause; that diminishes the original value of their charity or organization.  If that is what is needed, then why not just tax people/companies and get it over with rather than calling itself a nonprofit organization?  
dcaum
I think it is mostly about this; http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/...3_10_archive.html, and subsequent blogs that follow.
NovaElite
This is my first comment ever on Dealnews and the only reason i am posting is because it is an article reference to Amazon.

Personally i love amazon, i also think the whole world in general is debased and full of greed.  Some companies choose to give more than others that is true, but i'm sure all would agree that not many, if any, companies would donate so much that it puts their company in jeopardy. 

We don't know what is going on behind closed doors, maybe they can afford to donate more, or maybe they can't.  Perhaps they are playing it safe in the economic downturn, i dont know.  but i do agree that a lot of money can be saved by online shopping, and if we were to factor that in as "donations", i would say that Amazon donateds quite a bit.  if i can save 25-50% by online shopping and i spend 10,000 a year, amazon would save me 2,500-5,000 each year, and that is just me.  if we add up the millions of people it serves, some getting greater discounts than others, then Amazon is "donating" millions of dollars in profit each year.

As a comparison we look at Exxon Mobil who keeps increase gas prices in order to post profits of 30.5 Billion and chooses to donate a few hundred thousand to specific institutes.  if they were Amazon they would charge 2.50 per gallon instead of 4.50 and therefore "donate" to the whole country instead.  But i guess that is where greed comes in, they cant tax deduct lower gas prices can they.

See, its all messed up anyways, i'm just happy that i can save some money by shopping with Amazon.  So Amazon, donate what you want because it is probably more then any of us could ever donate as individuals.

These thought are just my personal opinion on the matter.
ziggyff
What a bunch of selfish morons.  If you were the small business being knocked around by these practices, you'd sing another tune . Second point: Philanthropy was not the main point of the article and as an actual Amazon employee, I'm happy to be made aware of this article.
phear3d
part of the thrill of ordering online WAS to avoid sales tax. these days though, if the difference is very minimal compared to that online, i'd rather have the product now (ie buying from a b&m store) than buying it online and then have to wait 2 days just to save a couple of bucks.

as for company practices, walmart does the same thing. i guess this is the cost of selling cheap.
miked_11
If dealnews persists in this unashamed liberal bashing of successful people, I (and I suspect many others) will happily go elsewhere. If you want to turn into an opinion site, be honest and say so.

Seattle Times is the local branch of Pravda in Seattle. Amazon employs tens of thousands of people, has millions of happy customers and thus contributes a LOT MORE to the happiness of people than Seattle Times ever did.

Cease and desist your liberal propaganda.
miked_11
Seattle Times is the Seattle version of Pravda.   If you are to comment on Amazon, do some balanced reporting and report articles from Forbes like this one: ttp://www.forbes.com/...2012/04/04/inside-amazon/[

Mr. Bezos revolutionized retailing and is doing the same in Cloud Computing.  Amazon employs tens of thousands in Seattle and vicinity, rents offices and benefits local businesses.  Amazon customers love what the company does for them.  On the other hand, Seattle Times keeps losing customers, employees and is bleeding money.  This is the SAME newspaper that, for years, bashed Microsoft for its alleged "monopolist" policies.  And they do so while they bought or put out of business every other newspaper in Seattle!

If dealnews wants to become the next liberal bastion of bashing successful businesses, have the decency to declare that.  Many of us will happily leave you and find alternate businesses and you can then be acquired by Seattle Times and continue spouting your hatred of hard working, successful people.
ada11
how can you see this article as being against (or for) Amazon? they are posting links to what others are saying, with a small bit of detail, and present both sides. i don't think this is an opinion piece as much as it is asking for OUR opinion. i am currently reading One Click, which brings to light some of the warehouse conditions, but I'm glad to see others are shedding light on this. I love Amazon, but we need to know the truth
Scroogus Maximus
Seattle (and King County) is infamous nationwide for its thieving sales taxes levied against the entire state to pay for Seattle-ite toys like their new sports stadiums.  Seattle also (as a city) has an amazingly low average of charitable giving among its citizens. Given the Seattle Times' screamingly socialist bent, it is more than a little amusing to watch a newspaper of the birdcage quality presented by the ST attack a successful capitalist company for its "lack of giving" when the company is intelligent enough to realize that online sales are not subject to state sales tax through a lot of hmmm...Congressionally-created loopholes. South Carolina, for example, lost Amazon's major distribution center (and thousands of jobs) when SC tried to force Amazon to pay SC sales tax for ALL of its sales because it had ONE distribution center in SC.  Amazon voted with its feet and left.  If Washington wants to carp about this, I'm sure Nevada, Wyoming or one of the other corporate-friendly states would be happy to provide a new home for Amazon.  And they won't complain for one second that Amazon's philanthropy doesn't equate to Pirate Bill Gates who, having illegally destroyed a number of competitors through far dirtier business practices, is currently trying to buy his way into heaven.  If my trade-off is Amazon's tremendous deal-making, service, and efficiency for Windows' deliberately dishonest creation of software containing e.g. 65,000 known bugs upon issuance of new software, I'll take Amazon any day, and they can keep the sales tax.
bashboom
Amazon appears most frequently in dealnews of any retailer. So it is perfect appropriate for this site to report on any buzz around Amazon. Dovi's article isn't overly editorializing. I found it interesting and something I had missed from other news sources. Good work dealnews--keep giving us information about low prices (and the price of low prices). We can ignore it, act on it, believe it, not believe it. . . .we all should be self-conscious about our choices. 
cyclism6486
they charge sales tax in NY
seaborntay
If Amazon will bring their operations and many many jobs to our state, we promise not to whine about how much they're not giving to local museums.  And if the Seattle Times wants to tell companies how to spend their money, they should do like every other obnoxious busybody and run for political office...
Woodlander
You don't owe any explaination, but I do applaud you on your efforts. However, were I to utilize similar tactics that the aforementioned article did, I could mock your efforts as pale... if not completely insignificant, when viewed next to the $31 million that your neighbor, JP Morgan Chase gives annually...

But that would be silly at best; mean spirited, deceptive and harmful at worst. I suspect that the latter more closely aligns with the writer at the Seattle Times' intent than the prior.
Exivus
Wow.. well I just read the user comments on The Seattle Times story. Not one good thing to say about this "series" on Amazon.

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/...hame on them. And really, Dealnews -- I'm surprised by you.
Exivus
I couldn't agree more with this comment. 
Exivus
Where on earth did this come from?

I don't care what it does or doesn't do philanthropically. 
I'm happy they do not pay/charge sales tax.
I love their prices.

The end. 

Sounds like to me that The Seattle Times has an agenda. Maybe DealNews too, because I'm pretty shocked to be finding this in my mailbox this morning. But in another way happy -- I'll fight and defend Amazon against some BS agenda.
Exivus
Amen!
dealguy
A fair question. On the charity issue, dealnews has given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years to local and national charities. As you may know, dealnews did a $250,000 match ($500,000 total) to the American Red Cross for tornado relief in 2011 plus added tens of thousands more for Japanese tsunami relief. Each year, dealnews supports the ALS Association, fighting Lou Gehrig's disease; the Riley Center, which fights autism; and several local Brooklyn and Huntsville charities in support of no-kill animal shelters and other causes, including things like kids' sports teams and fraternity fundraisers.
gkcmilner
Amazon's excellent customer service and low prices IS philanthropy to me (and millions of other consumers).
Woodlander
I'm reading "Dealnews" right? Not philanthropy news...

If you are a site that supports, draws attention to, and profits off of deals, why not at least make some attempt in your opinion piece to defend them?

How much does Dealnews directly give to charity? Is it as much as other, much larger nearby companies? Do you overpay your employees? Is each and every employee satisfied beyond their wildest dream? Do you let us know each time any product linked to (and profited off) by your site are made by children factory workers? No... and I don't think you have to, but I hope you can see that's inherently what the Times is doing to Amazon.

I've never commented here before, but it's so odd (and somewhat dissapointing) to see you giving the Times' report additional reach and maybe even validation by posting this commentary on your site.
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