Jeff Bezos: ‘We need to do a better job for Amazon employees’

16 Apr 2021

Jeff Bezos. Image: Amazon

In his last shareholder letter as CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos addressed the recent union vote and questions of worker safety.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has admitted that the company, which directly employs 1.3m people around the world, needs to “do a better job” for its workers.

In his final letter to shareholders yesterday (15 April), the outgoing chief executive said Amazon has focused on being a customer-centric company, but is now also going to extend that focus to its workforce.

He referenced a recent union vote at a fulfilment centre in Alabama, which attracted headlines as it would have been the first unionisation of Amazon warehouse workers in the US. Workers last week ultimately voted against the union effort, but it raised plenty of questions about the treatment of warehouse staff.

“I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” Bezos wrote, adding that he did not “take comfort” from the outcome of the union vote.

“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees.”

Bezos didn’t reference the reports of Amazon workers peeing in bottles, but he denied claims that employees are treated as robots and said the company doesn’t set unreasonable performance goals.

Bezos announced earlier this year that he will be stepping down as chief executive of the e-commerce and tech behemoth in the third quarter of 2021. He will soon take on the role of executive chair, while Amazon Web Services boss Andy Jassy will take the reins as CEO.

In his upcoming role, Bezos said he will focus on new initiatives including worker safety. He said in his letter to shareholders that around 40pc of work-related injuries involve musculoskeletal disorders, such as sprains and strains from repetitive work.

“We need to invent solutions to reduce musculoskeletal disorders for new employees, many of whom might be working in a physical role for the first time,” he wrote.

Bezos said Amazon will invest more than $300m into safety projects in 2021, including $66m to create technology that will help prevent collisions of forklifts and other vehicles. He added that it is developing automated staffing schedules to rotate workers among different jobs “to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees” from musculoskeletal issues.

In its annual report for 2020, Amazon revealed that it had net sales of more than $386bn last year, with net income of $21.3bn.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided a boon for e-commerce and online services. But the past year also brought a lot of criticism of Amazon’s dominant market position as well as its employment practices and safety protocols in fulfilment centres, which has led to worker strikes in some markets.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic