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Amazon threatened to fire climate activists, employee group says

Jeff Bezos unveils Amazon’s ‘Climate Pledge’ in September
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the company’s “Climate Pledge” in September after thousands of Amazon workers pressed for action.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA-EFE/REX)

A group of Amazon.com Inc. employees who pushed the company to fight climate change say Amazon has threatened to fire some of them if they continue to speak out about their employer’s internal affairs.

Two were threatened with termination, a spokesperson for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said, and a total of four were told in meetings that they were in violation of the company’s policies on workers speaking to the press and on social media.

Maren Costa, a user experience designer, was threatened with termination after speaking to the Washington Post, according to a statement from the group. “This is not the time to shoot the messengers,” Costa said in the statement. “This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out.” (The Post is owned by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.)

Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that the company’s external communications policy isn’t new. Employees are “encouraged to work within their teams” and may suggest “improvements to how we operate through those internal channels,” that statement said.

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The tech industry has been roiled by employee activism in recent years. After Google workers raised concerns about bidding on military contracts, the Alphabet Inc.-owned search giant backed out of a U.S. Defense Department drone program and decided not to bid on a contract to build cloud services for the Pentagon. Employees at Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. pressured executives about their companies’ dealings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice in late 2018 began discussing ways to persuade their employer to curb its contributions to climate change. The e-commerce company already had committed to powering some of its infrastructure with renewable energy sources but stopped short of the bigger commitments — and transparency — promised by some other large technology and logistics companies.

The group put forward a shareholder resolution, backed by thousands of employees in an open letter, that called on Amazon to write a report detailing preparations for climate-related disruptions and plans to reduce use of the fossil fuels blamed for the Earth’s warming. Shareholders rejected the proposal at Amazon’s annual meeting in May.

Amazon made much of the employees’ climate proposal a few months later. In September, Bezos announced aims to power Amazon’s operations entirely with renewable energy by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2040. The announcement came the day before hundreds of employees held a rally at Seattle headquarters to kick off a march with other climate activists in the city and around the world.

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The employees say Amazon changed its policy on workers speaking to the media after workers had announced the September walkout. The updated policy requires employees to seek approval before speaking about Amazon in any public forum in which they’re identified as an Amazon employee, the employee group said.

Anderson said work on that updated policy began in the spring of 2019 and was designed to make it easier to manage approvals for employee engagements.

“I encourage you to review the policy again and in the future anytime you may consider speaking about Amazon’s business in a public forum,” Eric Sjoding, an employee in Amazon’s human resources group, wrote to Costa in a Nov. 22 email.


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