Athena movement highlights Amazon’s ethical malpractices

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Joel C. Bautista | The Ticker

Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

Amazon has been one of the most popular, yet notorious names in the world of business in the past decade. Aside from being the face of the recent rise of “click and mortar” businesses, Amazon has been no stranger to controversy in the past, ranging from working conditions in their warehouses to CEO Jeff Bezos’ divorce earlier this year

Despite this, Amazon still placed fifth in the 2019 Fortune 500 and still retains its position as the largest digital marketplace today. As David Streitfeld of The New York Times points out, Amazon’s unrivaled growth is beginning to be challenged by a new grass-roots movement named Athena.

“The coalition, Athena, comprises three dozen grass-roots groups involved in issues like digital surveillance, antitrust and working conditions in warehouses” Streitfeld said. “The goal is to encourage and unify the resistance to Amazon that is now beginning to form.”

The formation of this coalition comes at an opportune time as a recent study published by the Economic Roundtable discussed the large-scale detriments Amazon warehouses are currently causing in the communities they are located. The study titled “Too Big to Govern” offers insight into why Amazon’s practices have gone, until this year, unscathed.

“Amazon, like Facebook, Apple and Google has drawn the attention of Washington regulators state attorneys general and at least a few politicians in the last year,” Streitfeld says.

“The central question being asked about all of the companies: When does a tech platform become too big and powerful, ultimately hurting the society it once dazzled?”

For many workers of the grass-root movements that make up Athena, Amazon has crossed the line. Earlier this year, Amazon was forced to cancel plans for headquarters in Long Island City after protests against what Business Insider reported was a $3.7 billion dollar project that would’ve taken 15 years to complete. Additionally, voters in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle were appalled to hear that the company was taking measures to ensure candidates that supported the company would be elected to the City Council.

These victories against Amazon were highly influenced by local non-profits and labor organizations in those areas. However, it is organizations like these across the country that are beginning to unify under Athena to rival their common enemy.

Although Athena will be stationed in New York, Streitfeld notes that most of the action Athena takes will primarily take place in several states, led by non-profit organizations in those particular areas. While Athena is gaining national support, these victories against one of the leading online retailers are only a small sample size of a big challenge to come.

As Fortune 500 points out, “Amazon grows like a startup.” The company netted nearly $238 billion in revenue in 2018, a number that makes Athena, with a budget of only $15 million, seem like they’re faced with an insurmountable task. The power of Athena, however, is not in the money it has, but rather the knowledge and expertise its members retain.

This is properly represented by the organization’s name, which is synonymous with wisdom, knowledge and democracy. One of the most advantageous aspects of the name is what it’s leaving out. By refraining from including Amazon in its name, Athena makes it clear that they are not trying to run them out of business, but rather convince it take care of its employees and customers, as many of their workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. Athena is “to be for something, not against it,” Stacy Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance noted.

This “something” is different for many, depending on the problem they have with Amazon. A report by the Economic Roundtable highlighted one particular grievance in which a majority of warehouse employees in Southern California live in poor conditions while only receiving $15 an hour and little to no employee benefits. The report noted that very little of Amazon’s business practices are known to anyone but Amazon and many communities are in the dark.

Athena, as a coalition of various grass-roots movements, hopes to shed light on Amazon’s ambiguous treatment of communities and employees that allows the company to be one of the richest entities in the world.

Although Amazon refused to comment on the rise of Athena, the grass-roots organization is continuing to grow and is capable of having a considerable impact on making the internet giant’s business practices more transparent.

With so many already using Amazon, Athena believes that they can create substantial change by continuing to promote the unethical side of Amazon.