Why you should break up with Amazon Prime

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Mars Nevada
Digital Imagery Specialist

The image is a play on the Amazon "smiley face" logo, instead featuring a frowning face. Another face looks sad on the other side of the image.
Graphic by Mars Nevada

Complicit. Can I give you a definition? Yes. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “complicit” as “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” Could I use “complicit” in a sentence? Of course. We are all complicit in worker abuse when we subscribe to and use Amazon Prime.

We’re probably all guilty of unethical consumerism – or buying and consuming things without regard to the moral dimensions of our purchases. Many of us wear fast fashion. We don’t always recycle. We happily buy products made with exploited labor. Of course, however, it’s the companies and industries who are polluting our air and water and exploiting labor who are at fault. Pretending otherwise is what Mary Annaise Heglar, a climate justice essayist, described in an essay for Vox as carrying the “green sins” for the industries we should be shaming, instead of shaming people just trying to live. But, while we cannot realistically put the blame on individuals for climate change, we can nonetheless hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make from a moral standpoint. I don’t believe any of us can be perfect ethical consumerists, especially in college, or really any low-income situation, because of the reality that things are expensive.

I should be vegetarian. I shouldn’t take long baths with a tub full of hot water. But I’m not, and I do. What I won’t do, however, is use Amazon Prime. I used to be in love with Amazon Prime. A last-minute order of textbooks our professor promises us we will absolutely use? Check. A lighting kit for a shoot? Next day shipping saved me a day of planning. The convenience and speed was intoxicating.

But when Prime Day rolled around, I (reluctantly) canceled my Prime membership and tried to stay away from all the websites listing all the best deals of the day. Why? Because in Minnesota and Germany, workers were striking for better working conditions, according to a CNBC report. According to Business Insider, Amazon released a statement saying only 15 workers went on strike in Minnesota, but there’s plenty to read about the dark side of Amazon. In August, Buzzfeed, known for their litanies of recommendations for things you can buy off Amazon, published a story about how Amazon’s next-day delivery offerings create a system of pressure that results in danger and injuries and sometimes even death for delivery drivers and the neighborhoods they drive in. Emily Guendelsberger, for TIME Magazine, described her experience in an Amazon fulfillment center as “agony” and as being held to the “productivity standards of a robot.”

There are so many stories similar to Guendelsberger’s that you can find in which Amazon workers are pushed to the outer limits of human endurance and for far too little pay. In 2017, the University of California’s Andy Murdock wrote for Vox about the environmental cost of two-day shipping, describing how the increased frequencies of deliveries is driving up emissions and in turn, pollutants. Free two-day shipping is one of the key selling points of Amazon Prime.

We should be naming and shaming companies like Amazon, putting pressure on government officials and putting our money where our mouth is. When I hold an Amazon cardboard box now that I have read all these reports about the company, there’s an immediacy of pain present that’s harder for me to perceive with other bad consumption choices I make. I know what it’s like to be pushed to the point of exhaustion while working. I know the bad choices you can make and the harm you can cause while rushing to get things done. I know what it’s like to grow up breathing polluted air. And the cost is not worth the convenience.

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