The recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has been on my mind a lot over the last few days, so I’m going to share some thoughts, and I’m interested in hearing yours.
The segment is about fulfillment centers, specifically those owned and operated by Amazon. Employees at these centers each have a gadget that receives orders, tells the employee where to find the products in the order, and tells them how much time they have to find the products.
On some levels, it’s an impressive system. Employees have clear direction about what to do throughout the day, they’re encouraged to work with little to no supervision, and they’re paid $15/hour, which is a living wage in most US cities.
However, the system doesn’t appear to be based on rewarding success; rather, it’s based on punishing employees for failing to live up to Amazon’s standards. The result is that employees try not to take bathroom breaks and are exhausted at the end of the day.
Also, remarkably, despite all of the technology that makes this system possible, it seems that the devices often send employees to opposite sides of the warehouse with the clock ticking. That baffles me, as a lose-lose situation: It isn’t efficient for Amazon, and it’s probably a part of the reason why the people there are so tired at the end of the day.
While Amazon is responsible for this system and how they treat employees, John Oliver points out that every Amazon Prime member–like me–has a responsibility to shoulder as well. There are over 100 million of us, and we’re the ones who are ordering from Amazon with free one-day shipping.
I was left wondering what I should do. One obvious option is to simply stop ordering from Amazon. But I must admit that it’s one of my preferred online marketplaces. Amazon claims to be “obsessed with customers,” and I honestly feel that way when I’m shopping for something there.
John Oliver mentions another option, and I wish he had ended the show on this, because I actually think it might make a difference if more people considered and acted on this (as I plan to do): What if I simply stopped requesting one-day shipping when I order on Amazon? It’s the default option, but there are other, slower options as well. It seems that a lot of the issues with Amazon’s system stem from the urgency of meeting the promise of one-day shipping; maybe I can relieve that pressure a bit.
Of course, I’m just one of many millions of people who order from Amazon–changing my behavior will have an infinitesimally small impact on Amazon’s employees (if any). But just like when I vote in an election, even though my vote is a drop in the bucket, at least I made the choice to represent myself and what I believe.
What do you think? Did watching this video inspire you to do anything?