Hundreds of Amazon employees criticize firm’s climate stance

Group members have publicly criticized the company, and some have been warned that they could be fired. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Hundreds of Amazon employees criticize firm’s climate stance

  • More than 300 signed a Medium blog post by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ)
  • Group members have publicly criticized the company, and some have been warned that they could be fired

SAN FRANCISCO: Hundreds of Amazon employees Sunday openly criticized the online retail giant’s environmental record, in violation of the company’s communications policy.

More than 300 signed a Medium blog post by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), which is pushing the company to go further in its climate change mitigation plan which was announced with great publicity in September.

Group members have publicly criticized the company, and some have been warned that they could be fired.

“The protest is the largest action by employees since Amazon began threatening to fire workers for speaking out about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis,” the AECJ said.

“As Amazon workers, we are responsible for not only the success of the company, but its impact as well. It’s our moral responsibility to speak up, and the changes to the communications policy are censoring us from exercising that responsibility,” said Sarah Tracy, a software development engineer at Amazon.

It is common for companies to demand restraint from employees when it comes to publicly discussing the firm’s activities and even more so when openly questioning them.

Amazon had nearly 650,000 permanent employees at the end of 2018, according to the company’s annual report.

While the environment and climate change was the focus of many of the posts on Sunday, Amazon was also criticized for other activities such as providing artificial intelligence capabilities to companies in the oil sector.

Amazon is often criticized over its carbon footprint because of the high energy consumption of its huge server farms for its lucrative cloud computing activities.

And it has built its success on the back of a huge road transport logistics network to ensure speedy deliveries, which generates a lot of greenhouse gases, the main culprit of climate change.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on September 19 last year made public environmental commitments, promising in particular that the firm would be carbon neutral by 2040.

The AECJ said this was insufficient and Amazon should be aiming for a 2030 target.

“This is not the time for silencing voices. We need policies that welcome more open discourse, more problem-solving, and more urgent and concerted action about climate change and its causes,” said Mark Hiew, a senior marketing manager at Amazon.

Amazon did not respond to an AFP request for a response but an article in the Bezos-owned Washington Post quoted spokesman Drew Herdener as saying Amazon encouraged employees to express themselves, but internally through the various platforms available to them.


US judge blocks Commerce Department order to remove WeChat from app stores

Updated 21 September 2020

US judge blocks Commerce Department order to remove WeChat from app stores

  • WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia says

WASHINGTON: A US judge on Sunday blocked the Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”

On Friday, the Commerce Department had issued a order citing national security grounds to block the app from US app stores owned by Tencent Holding’s and the Justice Department had urged Beeler not to block the order.

Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the site’s usability for current US users. The US Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

The Justice Department said blocking the order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.” But Beeler said “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest.”

She added “The regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest.”

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.

The WeChat Users Alliance that had sued praised the ruling “as an important and hard-fought victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the US.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer for the users, said “the United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”