On January 2, the Washington Post reported allegations that Amazon employees were threatened with termination by their employer after they publicly spoke out about climate change. These threats affected four members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an activist group within the company, who claimed they were contacted by either HR or legal departments for their speaking publicly, including speech to the press. Two of the employees received additional emails threatening their termination. The employees were speaking out about the company’s climate policies and practices.
Company lawyers sent letters to employees, alleging that they violated the company’s external communication policy. The employees were advised to “review the policy again and in the future anytime you may consider speaking about Amazon’s business in a public forum.”
“This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out,” said Maren Costa, an Amazon user experience principal designer, in a statement. She stated she was threatened after speaking to The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Costa received an email from HR, which stated that upon investigation she did not knowingly violate the company’s communication policy, so the company would not take formal action. However, the email stated “future violations of the policy may result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon.” Further, Costa told the Washington Post, in reference to Amazon’s warning, “[i]t was scary to be called into a meeting like that, and then to be given a follow-up email saying that if I continued to speak up, I could be fired. But I spoke up because I’m terrified by the harm the climate crisis is already causing, and I fear for my children’s future.”
The group has pushed the company to make more and larger commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and to stop work with the oil and gas industries and to create a shareholder resolution on climate change; not all of its efforts have been successful. The company did put together a climate change plan. The group participated in the Global Climate Strike in September.
A company policy was created in September 2019, one day after the internal activist group stated it would hold a climate walkout at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Hundreds of Amazon employees participated in the walkout. The new policy requires employees to get permission before publicly speaking to the press or on social media about Amazon when they are identified as working for the company. It requires a business justification for communication and PR approval could take up to two weeks. Amazon refutes that the policy was new and a response to the organized walkout, claiming, “[o]ur policy regarding external communications is not new…[w]e recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company’s logo.” Amazon noted that “employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where policy is not being followed.”
In addition to internal advocacy about climate change, Amazon has also had employee activism surrounding warehouse working conditions, and its work with immigration authorities. This comes after four Google employees were fired after speaking out against working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board is planning an investigation into the incident. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have had employees publicly speak out about facial recognition technology in fear of misuse.