Amazon: a story of Geographical remapping of wealth and power
What if I told you that in 2020 in the United States there were more people subscribed to Amazon Prime than voters for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump? You probably wouldn’t be surprised. More than one hundred million Americans subscribed to Amazon’s Prime service; just last year the retailer reaped half of what people in the United States spent online.
Among us it would be quite challenging to find someone that hasn’t felt tempted by the luring appeal of this massive online retailer. Amazon promises painfully fast deliveries and allows us to fulfill our desires with the mere click of a button. This single corporation has become widely and deeply intertwined with this nation becoming the second largest private workplace in the United States, only following Walmart, providing a job to more than 800,000 individuals.
But how did we get here? Many business experts point us to the late 1970s when antitrust enforcement lost its thunder and overall regulations on business consolidation were loosened. If we pair this with the inception of the internet in the early 2000s, the result is a toxic cocktail that enabled the concentration of corporate wealth within the palms of a select few firms: namely Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. This has consequently led these corporations to nurture unprecedented influence on economic life igniting a geographical remapping of wealth and power in the United States. In fact, as Amazon employees have made wealthy coastal cities like Seattle their homes, the rest of the United States, particularly rural and inland areas, have been drained of opportunities.
We have seen this story unravel time after time. In Seattle, Amazon’s young and wealthy programmers work at the company’s amenity-packed office towers which have been directly linked to the displacement of a historical black neighborhood. In the suburbs of Virginia, we witnessed homeowners’ attempt to protect their neighborhoods from the potential environmental harm that a new Amazon data center could cause. Or again in El Paso, Texas we saw small business owners struggle to compete after Amazon secured the government office supply procurement. These examples are proof of Amazon’s unparalleled ability to further enrich and empower thriving regions and workers in the United States.
If we look more closely, we will notice the powerlessness of those that are left freezing in Amazon’s shadow. The blue-collar labor on which the online retailer relies upon is known to be exhausting and dangerous. Their rates of injury are double the industry average and the company’s efforts to put an end to unionization are unparalleled. As Amazon recorded its most profitable year, thanks to a massive shift towards online shopping sparked by the global pandemic, Amazon’s workers were left vulnerable to the virus. 20,000 frontline workers tested positive for the coronavirus and were offered with little to no support from the company.
These must be the hidden human costs of a growing gap between the country’s winner and loser regions. One could argue that with every click and with every purchase Amazon is altering the very social fabric of the United States.
The goal of this course is to understand business as a citizen. Amazon provides the perfect avenue for reflection because it forces us to think about the importance of integrating corporate citizenship issues, whether they be ethical, social or political, into the strategy of a business. By critically analyzing the impact Amazon is having and will continue to have on American society we realize that businesses, especially those as large and influential as Amazon, must act responsibly.
Source: Vara, V. (2021) Amazon Has Transformed the Geography of Wealth and Power, The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/03/alec-macgillis-fulfillment-amazon/617796/ (Accessed: 1 March 2021).