Following on from news that Amazon’s Japan offices were raided by the country’s Fair Trade Commission, we thought we’d take a look at some of the controversies that have engulfed the multi-faceted behemoth over the years.
Perhaps the biggest one on this list is Amazon’s tax avoidance, particularly in the UK. It was reported in 2012 that the organisation made more than £3.3 billion in sales but didn’t pay any corporation tax, and that it was being investigated by the authorities.
After eventually agreeing to pay corporation tax, in 2017 it was once again reported that the company was avoiding tax when it turned out Amazon paid just €16.5m (£15m) on European revenues of €21.6bn (£19.5bn) reported through Luxembourg in 2016. Its declared UK corporation tax bill halved from £15.8m to £7.4m year-on-year in 2016 despite revenues rising from £946m to £1.46bn.
A spokesperson said that Amazon ‘pays all the taxes that are required in every country where [it] operates’.
Removal of competitor products
Some might call it petty, others may call it sound business sense, but the online retailer has certainly rocked the boat when it comes to its competitors’ products.
In October 2015, Amazon banned sales of Apple TV and Google Chromecast products that serve as rivals to its own Fire TV range. Amazon stated that this was to prevent ‘customer confusion’ as Apple and Google’s devices did not (at the time) support Amazon’s Video service. Critics argued that Amazon had deliberately refused to develop an app for those other devices and that it was trying to suppress their sales. In December 2017 Amazon launched an Amazon Video app for Apple TV, but neither it or Chromecast products have returned to the site.
Similar episodes have occurred with other Google products including the Amazon Echo-rivalling Google Home, Pixel phones and smart tech from Google subsidiary Nest.
Amazon scandals are not exclusive to the 2010s, as the turn of the millennium saw a proven case of price discrimination.
One user – a regular Amazon customer – found a DVD at one price, but when they deleted their cookies they were offered the DVD at a substantially lower price.
The company’s response may be a bit of a shock, given its tendency nowadays to stick to its guns.
CEO Jeff Bezos followed up the news by apologising for the pricing and stated that Amazon "never will test prices based on customer demographics". The company said the difference was the result of a random price test and offered to refund customers who paid the higher prices.
Selling illegal items
In December 2015, an report was published by The Guardian to expose the sale of illegal items on amazon.co.uk. The items, which were in contravention of British law, included a pepper-spray gun sold directly by amazon.co.uk, stun guns and a concealed cutting weapon (both sold by Amazon Marketplace traders).
In a statement, Amazon said: “All [Amazon] sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.”
Treatment of workers
There have been plenty of reports of Amazon treating its workers poorly and paying them effectively under minimum wage.
In December 2017, Metro reported that the company’s delivery drivers are paid less than minimum wage as they have to pay for van hire and insurance.
The prior year, the BBC reported that drivers regularly work "illegal" hours. The report claims that drivers are expected work 12 hour shifts, despite UK law prohibiting drivers from working over 11 hours per day. The undercover reporter also said that colleagues told him they had to "defecate in bags" and "urinate in bottles" because there was no time for toilet breaks. He also was paid £93.47 for three days’ work in his first week, after deductions including optional van hire for a week and insurance – equal to £2.59 per hour and received the equivalent of £4.76 per hour in his second week when he worked four days.
As mentioned at the top, this is by no means an exhaustive list of scandals involving Amazon, with others such as opposition to trade unions, numerous anticompetitive practices and sale of controversial books including a ‘pedophile guide’ and titles defending Holocaust-denial.