EDITOR’S COLUMN: The Amazon problem

Consume ethically, consume less

The Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon last week, alleging an algorithmic monopoly.

In their complaint, the FTC claimed that “Amazon recognizes the importance of maintaining the perception that it has lower prices than competitors,” but the company deterred, “other online stores from offering lower prices than those of Amazon.”

Whether I like it or not, Amazon is a wildly relevant tool in our current economy. Its practices not only have the potential to impact pricing off the platform, but can also set new industry standards and norms.

Representatives from Amazon disagree with the validity of the FTC’s complaint. Regardless of the outcome of one lawsuit, I believe that the company has already negatively rewired our markets and our consumer minds.

A friend of mine recently asked how Amazon could hurt us if we are only voluntary consumers, people who never have to step foot in a warehouse. The problem with this question comes in three parts:

First, I find the “we don’t have to work there” argument selfish. I may not have to work at Amazon. As long as the company exists, however, someone else will have to.

If a company with years’ worth of occupational safety violations and union-busting activities can still make $514 billion in one year, nothing will deter other warehouse from treating their workers the same way. If one company can succeed financially through immoral practices, what keeps those practices from becoming industry standards?

Second, Amazon is a leader in e-commerce’s quantity over quality philosophy. Online shopping has convinced consumers that we are entitled to have anything at our doorstep in a day. We forget the sacrifice involved.

Speaking broadly, our commodities aren’t built to last anymore. From cheap clothing to meticulously temporary iPhones, we buy things to replace them in a number of months to a year. Amazon hauls are full of plastic that will stay in landfills centuries longer than in a home.

Consistent commodity spending works on a planet with infinite resources. We will run out of materials and space eventually. We don’t even consider the human resource fundamental to commerce: overworked laborers.

Having every new trendy makeup product freely shipped directly to your house in 24 hours is not a necessity. The affordability isn’t a real benefit. It’s a sign that consumers are content with low-quality materials and underpaid labor.

Finally, Amazon is already larger than the silly world of online shopping. It is now also a grocery store with Amazon Fresh, a pharmacy and medical clinic. Bloomberg reported that Amazon’s attempt at factory towns would “lift the working class.”

We are forgetting centuries of history in anti-trust efforts, unionization and the disastrous potential of company towns shown in the Appalachian coal towns.

Cynics like to say that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, so there is no reason to care. If this is the case, the answer is to consume less. Almost every single one of us can survive that.