Why you, too, should boycott Amazon

Bruno Cooke

Amazon is not only not local. It is the antithesis — the undoing — of local. Here’s why you, too, should boycott Amazon.

Everything is so easy with Amazon. From shopping to finding reasons to shop some more, we all have a very good excuse for helping Amazon further monopolise the entire retail sector.

Almost easier than funnelling money out of small businesses and into the biggest business ever is finding ways to pick apart the efforts of those trying to redress the imbalance. Of course cancelling your Prime subscription won’t save the world, but it is a start.

Who is Jeff Bezos and why is he so rich?

You don’t need someone to tell you who Jeff Bezos is, because you already know. He’s the richest man in the world and the CEO of Amazon. Since January this year, his wealth has grown by $74 billion. It went up by $13 billion in a single day. His critics — including Oxfam’s head of inequality — describe his wealth as ‘obscene’.

Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

But in reality we should all be calling Bezos’s wealth obscene. One billion dollars is obscene. To make that much in just over two hours is indescribable. Please, for a sense of scale view this infographic: Wealth shown to scale, and return once your hand hurts from scrolling.

The infographic’s creators describe Bezos’s wealth as ‘literally unimaginable’, and it’s true. All the money you will ever earn in your entire life, from the day you were born until the day you die, is a blip on the radar to him. The cost of annual healthcare for a family of four is but a few pixels.

Why is Amazon so bad for small businesses?

In capitalism, one’s triumph is another’s defeat. In a small, wholly local and protected economy, the emergence of a particularly talented and shrewd baker may threaten the security of the others. The same goes for booksellers, butchers, masseurs and magicians.

However, when capitalism reaches global dominance, and companies like Amazon float above the legal systems which supposedly bind us all, it is no longer one-for-one. Bezos’ gain equals a loss for millions and millions of people. Every time you shop with Amazon, you don’t shop with one of its alternatives.

The covid effect

Covid-19, and the lock-downs implemented to halt its spread, has brought many small and medium businesses to their knees. An ITC survey found one out of four small businesses in developing countries will close permanently due to the crisis. The smallest firms are at the highest risk. Theirs are among the most fragile economic ecosystems.

In affluent nations, too, small businesses have been dealt a deadly blow. Many feared, or narrowly escaped, insolvency. Companies that lacked the infrastructure to transfer over-the-counter sales slickly to online systems barely stood a chance.

Photo by Jason Mowry

Who picked up the slack? Amazon.

Amazon’s profits soared during lock-down for the same reasons that smaller businesses struggled: government instructions to stay at home, enforced closures of brick-and-mortar shops, national bans on outdoor excursions.

If you don’t pay for it, somebody or something – does

Sometimes, Amazon’s prices seem too good to be true. They make the costs elsewhere seem over-inflated and disproportionate. But who pays the full price, if we don’t?

The reality is that somebody is picking up the slack. It may be a warehouse worker who is forced to urinate in a plastic bottle because he can’t go to the toilet while on shift. Or else it may the shelf runner who feels “like a trapped animal”, or one of the 115 people working at a single Amazon warehouse in Rugeley who required emergency medical aid between 2015 and 2017.

Photo by Ruchindra Gunasekara<...>

In fact, we all suffer when Amazon’s profits balloon. Why?

The tax issue, again, and again

Amazon is well known for aggressively avoiding taxation. In the UK, Amazon has a characteristically measly tax record. What if, rather than ordering through Amazon, its customers had chosen to purchase their goods through smaller, taxpaying businesses?

By how much would local councils have their coffers bolstered? The example this sets may well be taken up by other notorious tax-dodgers, such as Google, Netflix and Facebook.

Fair Tax Mark’s report, ‘The Silicon Six’, argues that there is an aggregate global tax gap of $100 billion. That is the amount of tax that goes unpaid by six mega-corporations. How much could we improve global education provision with a sum like this? What about global poverty?

Amazon’s carbon emissions = 13 coal power stations

Amazon’s carbon footprint is astronomical, and rising. Last year, the shopping giant’s operations emitted the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide to 13 coal-burning power plants running for a year.

Your role as a consumer

Every purchase is a vote in favour.

Photo by Bermix Studio

Except, it makes no difference to Jeff whether you choose to buy through Amazon or not. He already has all the votes. However, you can undoubtedly think of dozens of local businesses who would appreciate your dollars, pounds or euros. The planet, too, will thank you for it.

There are numerous ways you can spend your money – if you’re willing to try. Many of them will make you happier than an Amazon purchase.