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28th Feb 2024

Strikes across Europe squeeze Amazon on 'Black Friday'

  • For the fifth year in a row, Amazon paid no tax in its Luxembourg headquarters, after making €50bn in revenue in 2022, campaigners said (Photo: Leonhard Lenz)
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Every year, on the fourth Friday of November, the American concept of 'Black Friday' kicks off the Christmas shopping season all around the world, offering discounts on a wide range of products.

But since 2020, Black Friday has taken on a different kind of blackness for companies like Amazon — it's also the start of several days of action against the world's biggest online retailer.

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On this year's Black Friday (24 November), strikes, protests and other actions are taking place in more than 30 countries, from Spain, Germany, or Denmark to India and the US, calling on Amazon to make major changes to its business model.

"Every day, we face the same challenges in our Amazon warehouse — low wages, high stress, and a lack of respect for our rights," said Rainer Reising, one of its workers in Germany.

Three years ago, workers, citizens and more than 80 organisations united in a campaign called Make Amazon Pay to demand fair wages, fair taxes and more accountability for its impact on the planet.

For the fifth year in a row, the multinational paid no tax in its Luxembourg headquarters after making €50bn in revenue in 2022, campaigners said.

"We want Amazon to hear us loud and clear: it's time to make changes for the better," Reising said.

Amazon is worth $1.52bn [€1.58bn, stock market capitalisation calculated with Wall Street still closed], and its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the top three wealthiest persons in the world, with a net worth of about $170bn as of November 2023.

"Amazon can afford to pay, but only will if we make it," reads one of the messages of the campaign.

Some already see things changing for the company founded by Bezos, at least in the EU.

New research from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), LobbyControl and SOMO shows that Amazon's growing global reach is facing a backlash, to which the retail giant is responding by expanding its lobbying power in the EU and its member states.

Since 2013, the company has spent at least €18.8m lobbying European institutions through think-tanks, consultancy firms, or public relations campaigns.

Its lobbying spending in the EU still lags behind that of Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, Google and Microsoft. However, when looking more closely at lobbying at the national level, Amazon spent €3.6m in 2022 in just two of its largest EU markets, France and Germany.

Amazon has corporate interests ranging from digital policy to sustainability, employment and corporate accountability, and has expanded its power networks accordingly in recent years.

They currently employ 14 PR firms, according to data from Lobbyfacts.eu.

The retailer has also increased its funding of think-tanks to 15, including the Brussels-based Bruegel, an economic think tank.

(Photo: COE, SOMO, Lobby Control)

Its tentacles of influence even reach into the EU institutions, according to research by CEO, LobbyControl and SOMO.

In the last mandate alone, Amazon visited the Berlaymont building 46 times, 19 of them to meet EU commissioners.

MEPs also met representatives of the US giant 106 times, mostly with the Renew Group (32), the S&D (28) and the EPP (24), as recorded by ParlTrack.

"This is only a fraction of the access Amazon has to the EU's institutions," CEO stressed.

The EU executive only records the activities of its top 300 officials, and MEPs only have to report their meetings if they are the rapporteur or chair of the dossier in question. Political advisers and parliamentary assistants are excluded from the data.

The work of MEPs, elected by EU citizens, is also being hampered by Amazon, some of them warn.

The parliament's employment and social affairs committee had planned to visit Amazon's warehouses in Germany and Poland next month (18-20 December), following calls to investigate anti-union repression and poor working conditions.

But the company has refused to open the doors to MEPs for a second time.

Left MEP Leïla Chaibi, who was coordinating the mission, said: "Just because you're rich doesn't mean you're above the law, above institutions and above workers."

"We advocate on a range of issues that are important to our customers, sellers, and the diverse range of businesses we operate. This means we work with organisations like trade associations and think tanks, and communicate with officials at the European Institutions," an Amazon spokesperson said.

This article was updated to reflect Amazon's position.

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