I was absolutely appalled by the Panorama expose tonight on Amazon's complete lack of employment ethics. After their colossal tax avoidance and their Mother's Day Rape On range, it's hard to believe things could get much worse.
If you're in the UK or using a proxy, you should be able to watch it online for the next twelve months.
The long and the short of it is that Amazon's main UK distribution centre is a battery farm, where night staff are forced to work in impossibly stressful conditions which can affect their mental and physical well-being. For instance, if you are sick, or go home early because you are sick, you get a point. Three points and you lose your job. The same if you don't pick enough items in a given number of seconds.
It truly was bizarre to watch. The managers appeared to be operating a Stanford Prison Experiment, gleefully dumping on those working beneath them whilst appearing to completely defy employment law. Amazon says everything it does is legal and that the safety of its workers is their 'number one priority', placing it even higher than paying tax.
Blatantly, Amazon couldn't give a monkey's about their employees, leaving thousands of people across the country feeling a mixture of shame for having bought through them, and horror at the thought of what to do next. Amazon are so easy to use, and stock just about everything...
But there are alternatives. Check out Bookmail. It was founded by a local bookshop owner who was going out of business because he couldn't compete with Amazon's prices. The programme saw him shutting down his seventh bookshop and laying off workers who clearly loved working for him. Now he's fighting back with his own online book store. I for one will be buying my books there from now on, happy to pay a little extra if it helps to maintain a decent standard of treatment for their employees.
I already use Etsy's 'shop local' option a lot, and purchase things from friends and online stores that sell unusual or quirky gifts. I like the sense of supporting individual businesses as much as possible. It's not too hard to ditch global corporations when there's so much choice online, it just means doing a little background research.
The next big question is what to do as an author. Changing who you buy from is easy, changing who supplies your work and distributes it is fairly impossible. Smashwords is an absolutely excellent alternative for ebooks, though their website needs a bit of an overhaul to be considered a real competitor.
It's quite upsetting to think that my paperbacks are sitting on a shelf somewhere in a giant warehouse with exhausted people running up and down unlit aisles like automated robots, trying desperately to find them before they get sacked.
I shall have to give this more thought.
For the time being, I'm going to have a go at not buying through Amazon and see how easy, difficult, or expensive that is. I will keep a record of my findings and report back in a few months.