by Nate Jackson A huge secret has been exposed: Amazon treats its warehouse workers poorly. True sweatshop work conditions where the temperatures race past 100 degrees and delivery quotas that demand breakneck speeds and a “safety last” mentality. That’s bad enough, but did you hear about another secret of the giant online retailer? They dodge taxes. A lot.
Amazon’s effective federal tax rate was 5.5% in 2010 way below the standard rate of 35%, set by law, for big corporations. Amazon maneuvers itself out of paying its fair share amount by gaming the system through a financial scheme—giving bonuses to executives.
When Amazon spoons out bonuses to executives in the form of stock options sometimes worth millions, the giant retail company gets to claim those bonuses for tax breaks. Basically by stuffing their own pockets they can then recoup that cost without paying their fair share in taxes. It’s a two for one special that is perfectly legal, but perfectly immoral.
Amazon has an obligation to live up to its end of the bargain that we as a society make with corporations. We, the public, give big corporations: an educated workforce, customers and a business friendly infrastructure. We build roads, bridges, construct power grids and supply access to other basic needs of business. What we demand in return is pretty simple: good jobs, safe products or services and corporations paying their fair share in taxes. Amazon executives seem like they’ve forgotten the deal.
Amazon doesn’t just sidestep its Federal tax obligation, but it actively fights against collecting state sales taxes as well. The big kid on the online playground has bullied state officials in California, New Jersey and other states to get what it wants.
In California, Amazon threatened to pull its business out of the state unless they got a tax break. When that threat was called by the state legislature, the giant online retailer decided it didn’t want to play by the same rules as every other business. It decided to take the law into its own hands--it created and pushed a new initiative.
In New Jersey, Amazon demanded our lunch money in special tax holidays, in exchange for creating low wage, high turnover warehouse jobs. The giant online retailer, whose CEO is worth billions, is dangling low wage jobs in exchange for tax breaks that in the light of Amazon’s huge size, amounts to chump change.
Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, worth billions. It’s sheer size is setting the norms and expectations of online business and if we, together, don’t do something it will continue to squeeze out profits no matter the cost. It will continue to use sweatshop conditions in its warehouses, wheel and deal for special tax breaks and if necessary create new laws to get out of paying its fair share.
We need to hold Amazon to live up to its obligation of giving back to the communities from which it benefits. The giant retailer should be paying its fair share in taxes, treating all of its workers well and competing for business in an ethical and straight-forward manner instead of playing by its own rules. The largest online store in the world needs to keep up their end of the bargain. Maybe they are just forgetful--time for a gentle reminder.