Last spring, a group of Amazonians — collectively known as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) — earned national headlines with their very vocal and very public advocacy for meaningful climate action.
Their employer, they argued, had a responsibility to be more agressive about reducing its footprint and to be transparent about it.
I agreed, as I wrote in one of my year-end essays for 2018, “Amazon’s sustainability story will receive closer scrutiny in 2019.”
And I felt vindicated last September when the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, showed up at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to make a pretty dramatic Climate Pledge not to mention a massive order of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles.
Here’s what he said at the time:
We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue — we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference. If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon — which delivers more than 10 billion items a year — can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can. I’ve been talking with other CEOs of global companies, and I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge. Large companies signing The Climate Pledge will send an important signal to the market that it’s time to invest in the products and services the signatories will need to meet their commitments.
Apparently, though, the company now wants its employers to pipe down about this topic, according to AECJ. In a press release released Jan. 2, the group reports that several of their leaders have been told they’ll be fired if they speak to the press or express their opinions on social media — without receiving permission to do so.
Amazon apparently updated its employee communications policy around the time the pledge was announced, when the group was organizing a walkout to support the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019.
As someone who has covered the technology industry for more years than I care to share, I’m not really surprised that Amazon would threaten workers for disclosing trade secrets. Every big company does that. But that’s not what is going on here.
“This policy is aimed at silencing discussion around publicly available information,” wrote software engineer Victoria Liang, in the AECJ press release. “It has nothing to do with protecting confidential data, which is covered by a completely different set of policies.”
Amazon is playing with fire, pun intended.