Amazon returns spell ruin – A Liberal Article
In 2019, Amazon committed to sustainability. The company founded the climate pledge and made a commitment to be net-zero carbon by 2040. This goal was ambitious and bold but an incredible step forward in the battle to save the environment. They even highlight this on their website, pointing out their proposals are ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement. On Monday, Richard Pallot in an ITV investigation exposed the real Amazon. This Amazon gives with one hand whilst secretly taking with another. The issue I see is not only environmental, it is social.
Pallot’s investigation followed one of Amazon’s twenty-four fulfillment centers and interviewed staff. Pallot discovered that goods that are not broken but unopened and/or returned and in perfect working condition, are thrown away every day. From electronics to books to sealed face masks. The company is destroying millions of items a year. The weekly “TARGET” of goods to be destroyed at this warehouse: 130,000 products. According to one manager, some weeks this number was nearly 200,000.
Think about the impact that those destroyed items could have had. Now that we are aware of the scale of the issue, the government must act immediately.
The environmental impact of this is clear. Every product that we buy from Amazon will have a carbon footprint. Whether it be the product itself, or the process, or the transportation, every item will impact the environment. Unopened or used products are thrown away unnecessarily. The carbon emissions caused will ultimately be for nothing. To make things worse, more of that the same products are produced to supply the demand.
Libby Peake from Green Alliance discussed the impact of one typical smartphone, of which Amazon is throwing away thousands per week. 160 baths’ worth of water; at least 6.5kg of mined ore; and 60kg of CO2. All for a smartphone that was never used. I am not advocating for no phones, the point is once we have made products with such high environmental impacts, no company or person should waste them.
A further issue that this investigation raises is a social one. In the UK and across the world, millions of people cannot afford food let alone the luxuries that Amazon is throwing away. Providing these products to those who need them most would help to alleviate some level of inequality that exists and dramatically improve the lives of millions of people. The government has a chance to begin holding companies to account and force them to play a role in improving the lives of those in poverty. A multinational company is throwing away millions of pounds worth of goods that so many only dream of having. There is no justification for not forcing Amazon to stop the demolition of goods and use them to better the lives of all.
Following this, Boris Johnson has pledged to look into Pallot’s findings. This government has a responsibility to do this quickly and act immediately. The evidence provided is overwhelming. For every day this continues the impact is immense. We all have a responsibility to ensure this is not forgotten and to raise awareness of this issue so that Amazon is held to account.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Fletcher Kipps
Point of Information
Unfortunately, very little will change – A Conservative Response
Fletcher’s article does an excellent job at highlighting the false promises of Amazon in its claims that it is an environmentally friendly company. Clearly, it is not. As Fletcher says, items that are thrown away are not only environmentally destructive but also socially damaging. Amazon no doubt needs to change its ways in order to benefit millions across the globe. However, Fletcher places too much optimism in government action. As much as I welcome Johnson looking further into these issues, I’m sceptical much will come of it.
Right now, the government has more pressing issues. COVID and its recovery will no doubt drive the government’s attention away from other issues like this, delaying any action. This will reduce any effectiveness, as Amazon will continue on with these practices in the meantime. Even if COVID wasn’t an agenda-sucking item, no doubt an effective attempt to prevent these practices would take time to design.
Furthermore, regulation might have international consequences. Amazon is, after all, an American company. In response to the introduction of a digital services tax, on companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook, the US retaliated with 25% tariffs on a variety of goods (though has suspended them, for now). It is clear that Washington sees foreign regulation to its top companies as a threat. It has also demonstrated that it is willing to act on that. This means any environmental regulation on Amazon must be careful not to trip similar tariffs. Regulating international companies requires international cooperation, and this will take time as well.
One possible (but very unlikely) solution is that people see this documentary and act on it themselves. Either stop returning items or, don’t buy them in the first place. Through behavioural change, Amazon will change its behaviour. Consumers behaving as they do allows Amazon get away with these practices.
However, I can’t say I’m overly optimistic about this solution either.
Due to successive lockdowns, Amazon has cemented itself as a vital service in people’s lives. Despite this overwhelming evidence, people will continue to behave the same. In a few months’ time, people will forget this documentary. Many will not think about the consequences of their returned items. They will only see the money back in their account.
Amazon must be held accountable for its actions. That is much indisputable. How Amazon is held accountable is the bigger question. Either regulation or people vowing to change their behaviour. Unfortunately, I don’t hold a lot of optimism for either. That’s not to say attempts shouldn’t be made, as there would be untold good if these practices were stopped.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Time to stop letting big companies keep regulators at arm’s length! – A Labour Response
The report which highlights Amazon’s wasteful and frankly disgusting practices is a wonderful piece of investigative journalism. The problem that the UK government now faces is how to actually address the issues raised. Legislation is a very difficult thing to draft, but it is even harder to enforce. In all honesty, I don’t put faith in the Conservative government (which refused to back the universal corporation tax touted by Biden) to legislate for how a company handles its stock, or to direct said company to donate all of it to charity.
Amazon has 17 ‘fulfillment centres’ in the UK which it uses to store and distribute products. In order to halt this daily practice of horrendous waste, civil servant officials would have to be permanently stationed at these centres. It is abundantly clear that Amazon themselves cannot be trusted. Barely a week before this report by ITV was published the UK boss of Amazon labeled the amount of waste “extremely small”. It is vital to remember that this level of wastage was also highlighted in many fast fashion companies in years gone by. Generally, CEOs of ethically questionable companies should not be taken at their word.
A societal shift is also required. For more see humanity’s impact on the planet. I have been guilty of being drawn in by next-day delivery, free returns policies, and the vast range of Amazon’s e-mega market, but ultimately it is a world we should all strive to distance ourselves from. Practices such as buying second-hand or upcycling old goods reduce our individual material consumption. This must become commonplace if the UK wishes to see a reduction in waste. Direct donation charities are becoming more and more prominent. It is easier than ever to donate goods to charities that will directly pass them on to those in need.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry McKeever