Amazon Prime Day Protests Call for Change, Not Bargains

Groups call for employee rights and eliminating goods from hate groups

Protests for workers' rights and against merchandise sold by third party vendors were organized to coincide with Prime Day 2018. Getty Image
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

As Amazon employees in Europe reportedly walked off the job to protest conditions at fulfillment centers and encouraged shoppers to boycott Prime Day, additional protests are playing out across the U.S. about income disparity and Amazon’s role in spreading the ideologies of hate groups.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the protests will hurt Amazon’s bottom line—particularly as it added six additional hours of Prime Day deals this year (but it lost the bulk of the first hour to site outages)—or if they will result in policy changes.

Nonprofits the Action Center on Race and the Economy, or ACRE, and the Partnership for Working Families (PWF), along with union rights organization Jobs with Justice, held protests at three Whole Foods locations in the Washington, D.C., area Monday evening, just a few hours after Prime Day 2018 officially kicked off. Angela Peoples, campaign director at ACRE, said protestors talked to customers as they walked in and out of Whole Foods, highlighting that Amazon is not doing right by communities of color, and these protests and conversations continue in New York, San Jose and Atlanta on Tuesday at sites like Amazon bookstores and fulfillment centers.

In a statement, Amazon said it is a fair and responsible employer that believes in continuous improvement and maintains an open and direct dialogue with associates.

“Amazon has invested over 15 billion EUR and created over 65,000 permanent jobs across Europe since 2010. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay, full benefits and innovative training programs like Career Choice that pre-pays 95% of tuition for associates,” the spokesperson said. “We provide safe and positive working conditions, and encourage anyone to come see for themselves by taking a tour at one of our fulfillment centers.”

The protests follow the publication of an ACRE-PWF report that found the scope of Amazon’s businesses and what they call its weak policies enable racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic groups to generate revenue and propagate their ideas by selling merchandise on, as well as by publishing media. It also called for Amazon to take a stand, saying, “Amazon has an ethical and moral responsibility to stop delivering hate to the world.”

It is unclear how much comes from hate groups selling on, but research from multichannel software company Sellbrite found 17 percent of Amazon’s net sales, which added up to $23 billion in 2016, come from third-party sellers. (The portion from hate groups is likely small, but ACRE did not have specific figures.)

“Today’s political climate increasingly normalizes movements that aim to harm people of color, those of Muslim and Jewish faith, women and the LGBTQIA community,” ACRE said in a media advisory for Monday’s events. “People are demanding change, not just from politicians but also businesses. The goal of #PrimeDayOfAction is to raise awareness about the harmful practices of the nation’s largest online retailer and to ask: Is there anything Amazon won’t do for a dollar?”

Peoples did not have figures for the number of protest participants but said ACRE put out a petition with the report t tell Amazon to stop doing business with hate groups, which has since netted 40,000 signatures.

The groups organizing the protest encouraged participants to use the hashtag #AmazonDeliversHate. Per data from social media analytics firm Brandwatch, #AmazonDeliversHate has been used around 500 times in the past two weeks, and #PrimeDayOfAction registered more than 500 mentions, with July 17 seeing more than 400. That’s compared with 193,000 mentions for #PrimeDay, which had more than 5.8 billion impressions. (#AmazonPrimeDay adds another billion impressions.) On the other side of the coin, #AmazonStrike has accrued more than 11.9 million impressions.

Per Peoples, Amazon has not responded to ACRE, but it has responded to some journalists and removed some items. It was not clear what has been removed, but the report noted products like a hangman’s noose car decal, cross-burning onesie and Nazi figurines for children.

“But the point especially in this moment is that Amazon needs to do more than just respond by saying will remove products,” Peoples said. “Amazon needs to do more than just apologize and ask for forgiveness. They need to be proactive about removing items … taking their policy seriously and making sure they are not working with these groups and engaging with communities on the ground to really figure out what does it mean to do right by marginalized communities.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Third party sellers who use our Marketplace service must follow our guidelines and those who don’t are subject to swift action including potential removal of their account.”

These aren’t the first Prime Day protests. Last year, boycott movement Grab Your Wallet protested Prime Day—and it still lists Amazon as a company to boycott because it distributes NRATV, advertises on Breitbart, sells Trump products and hosts an Infowars storefront.

A 2018 study from The Washington Post and the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found protests are on the rise across the U.S., with one in five Americans protesting or participating in political rallies since 2016, including 19 percent who said they had never protested before. And, The Washington Post said, 70 percent of these new activists disapprove of Trump.

Yashoda Sampath, group director of product innovation at digital agency Huge, agreed the U.S. is in a period of great political awakening and said as citizens learn more about how media and politics feed on each other, they’re much less likely to give big platforms a pass.

“What’s interesting about these protests is that they’re as much driven by solidarity with the workers’ strikes in Spain as they are by political organizing in the States,” Sampath said. “Social media taught them about global action, and social media is letting the protesters spread their message. Whether they end up hurting Amazon on sales or not, this is how movements start. With awareness.”

Gary Nix, chief strategist at the consultancy The Brandarchist, said protests like this are the byproduct of a swell in consumers holding companies accountable for all actions that take place on their platforms.

“It has been most obvious with companies like Facebook and Uber, so much so that they had to add mea culpa television commercials to their respective communications plans,” Nix said. “This is an example of how technology powers the brand while empowering the consumer.”

However, Nix noted, when you add Amazon’s convenience, experience and ability to deliver on core promises to it profiting from goods on its third-party marketplace that promote hate, a new level of cognitive dissonance is introduced.

“I would argue that at this particular moment, the core Amazon brand is doing and saying enough to quell consumers’ contradictory feelings and not experience a significant dip, if any, in revenue,” he said.

But, pointing to a 2017 Edelman study that found 57 percent of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand because of its position on a social or political issue, and 30 percent make more belief-driven purchase decisions than they did three years ago, Nix said it would behoove Amazon to address the issues in the study and voiced in the protests posthaste.

“Consumers have passed the level where talk led to how a brand was perceived,” he said. “There is a true expectation for action and which has been confirmed by studies showing that more than half of consumers buy from brands who match their personal beliefs with approximately 70 percent of those people expecting some sort of action [like contributing money, time or influence to said beliefs].”

Update: This story has been updated to include statements from Amazon.

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.