“Are you interested in working in a fun, fast-paced atmosphere earning up to $12.25 per hour?” -A 2011 Amazon warehouse ad
In June, Amazon purchased Whole Foods Market, a relatively upscale supermarket chain that offers foods without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors. At first glance, commentators assumed that Amazon’s multi-billion dollar purchase of Whole Foods was meant to save the grocery chain from declining revenue. John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, assured that the purchase saved the company, but from its “own reputation.”
Mackey believes that the company’s high-end notoriety is damaging its position in the global marketplace. Executives have aimed to rid the stereotype of Whole Foods being a grocery store for the wealthy, and as a result, Amazon immediately began to lower prices at the grocery chain after the $13.7 billion sale was approved.
Mackey has expressed his excitement about Amazon’s “cultural fit.” He sees a positive personal relationship with upper-level management and believes that the company will “take Whole Food’s mission […] to new levels.” Reflecting upon the importance of ethics in business, Mackey resented activist investors that continually criticized many of Whole Food’s branding techniques. He feels that these investors have “no agenda other than short-term return,” and in response, Mackey wants to reinforce and promote the idea of investing in order to grow the company’s prosperity.
Whole Foods’ comments emphasize a larger issue surrounding Twenty-First Century corporations: how big business today is often perceived as “greedy, selfish, exploitative, and uncaring.” In the environment, the role of massive corporations like Amazon is especially significant in that companies often exploit natural resources at unsustainable rates. In Mackey’s situation, he places higher value on his credibility—his company’s ethos—than finding quick ways to make money. In fact, friends of Mackey report that he “wasn’t going to sell [Whole Foods] to the highest bidder” if it would leave thousands of workers unemployed and ultimately dismantle the company’s ethical mission.
A Bad Report Card with Working Conditions
But Amazon’s track record doesn’t exactly align with Whole Foods’ demand for a “trusting, authentic” buyer. What’s odd is that Amazon is notorious for squeezing its suppliers and pushing workers to extremes—so much so, that in 2011, Amazon warehouse workers suffered heat exhaustion and needed medical attention. Amazon has a history of bringing in employees as “temporary staff,” giving workers little reason to complain: in the warehouse incident, employees began to neglect their work environment and more than a dozen collapse when the warehouse reached a staggering 102 degrees.
On top of poor working conditions, Amazon’s slow, steady integration into our lives as consumers and our domestic supply chains is frightening. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods potentially means that it can now eliminate local and regional competitors with ease. Whole Foods generally receives its supply for local farms as part of its mission to give back to nearby communities, but these farms are now going to have to deal with a massive, multinational corporation that hopes to implement itself into a wide range of industries.
Automation is Amazon’s Rise to Global Power
The merger has less to do with increasing the quality of Whole Foods’ products and services and more to do with the further implementation of Amazon automation techniques. Amidst the announcement of Amazon drones, the company’s growth strategy is to remove as many humans as possible in its supply chain. As a result, Amazon can really hurt the country’s nearly 16 million retail and services workers.
The company recently announced “Amazon Go,” a grocery store prototype that replaces cashiers with technology. Amazon’s long-term goals for Whole Foods contradict its plans to reinvent the supermarket; if it plans to rid the human element from the food services industry, it must say so clearly and strongly.