Via The Frying Pan:
A recent investigative report alleges that the online retail giant is subjecting workers to sweatshop conditions. According to the report, “Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain.” The report goes on to describe the following scene: “During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals.”
Based on these appalling allegations, the invaluable watchdog group American Rights at Work has called for a holiday season boycott of Amazon. This will clearly run up against our consumerist desire to save time and money — but each time you’re tempted to click the purchase button, remember what’s at stake for the people who make the wheels of Amazon’s empire turn.
Like most boycotts, this is a terrible idea. A boycott needs a specific demand that can be won in order to lift the boycott, and an institutional commitment to building the boycott. “Until Amazon gets the message to stop the exploitation, and start respecting workers…” is not a specific demand. (With rare exceptions, it’s hard to demand that someone “get the message.”) Whether American Rights at Work has any institutional commitment to building the boycott or reforming Amazon beyond collecting an e-petition is an open question.
Asking people who use Amazon for a considerable portion of their shopping to sign a pledge without giving them any evidence that it will make a difference in anyone’s life is a recipe for exhausting sympathy, not building power.
In general, progressives are quick to call boycotts as a response to wrongdoing rather than as a tactic in pursuit of a goal. (Remember the Obamacare-related Whole Foods boycott?) Without a plan to win, they erode credibility, especially when taking on a nationwide giant like Amazon. Aesop has one lesson about this. But I prefer Omar’s.