As workers around the world can attest, Amazon embodies 21st-century corporate excess.
Its ruthless union-busting, grueling productivity targets, invasive surveillance, and blatant disregard for workers’ health and rights haven’t only dominated headlines worldwide, but sparked a global movement to Make Amazon Pay. This campaign is now gaining momentum in India.
On Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, which has been rebranded as ‘Make Amazon Pay’ day, workers, supported by legislators, students, and other allies, will be protesting from Bengaluru to Berlin. In India, thousands of people will be demanding what’s long overdue – a seat at the bargaining table, where workers can exercise their rights and improve their working conditions.
This year, the event falls on November 24.
We know that Amazon’s staggering success has come at the expense of workers worldwide. At no time has this been clearer than during the pandemic, which intensified an already brutal work environment. As the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon’s orders and profits soared, and so did the toll on workers. The company’s even more relentless pace and pressure, coupled with inadequate safety measures, exposed employees to risks of injury or illness.
Workers tell us that Amazon’s performance monitoring system makes them feel “stressed, pressured, anxious, and untrusted”, according to a 2023 UNI Global Union survey of Amazon employees in eight countries, including Amazon’s largest markets. Over half of the 2,000 workers surveyed said Amazon’s monitoring systems have had a negative impact on their physical (51%) and mental health (57%). The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that “Amazon’s work processes are designed for speed, not safety, and that these processes cause serious injuries to workers.”
Even US Senator Bernie Sanders has opened an investigation into the company’s “abysmal safety record”. But the impact of Amazon’s practices is not confined to its warehouses in any particular country; the damage it causes to workers spills across economic sectors and borders.
India is no exception. One worker, who wants to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, told us: “The pressure to work is so much that we are not even allowed to go to the washroom, and because of that, we get stomachaches. We can’t answer our phones or speak to anyone, and if we get very tired, we can’t rest anywhere… If we have not achieved our targets, they speak to us in an abusive language and force us to resign.”
No wonder that for over a decade now, Amazon workers everywhere have been at the forefront of this struggle for justice and corporate accountability. With persistent strikes, organising and forming works councils, Amazon workers had been able to increase their wages and improve working conditions and push back against overwork and algorithmic management.
Then the pandemic came. In response, workers across the globe rose up in direct action, amplifying the call for a change that kick-started the ‘Make Amazon Pay’ movement.
The essence of this movement is grounded in a fundamental principle: workers are not cogs in a machine; they are human beings with rights and aspirations.
On Black Friday, our message is clear: We demand a future where companies like Amazon are held accountable, where workers’ rights are respected, and where labour has a meaningful seat at the table. We stand in solidarity with all Amazon workers, not just in demanding fairer conditions but in challenging a system that perpetuates inequality and exploitation.
‘Make Amazon Pay’ unites trade unions, NGOs and lawmakers, but it is more than a platform for voicing grievances. It stands for a strategic shift toward tangible policies and regulations aimed at curbing Amazon’s unchecked dominance. Our ambition is bold yet crucial: to redefine the narrative and transform Black Friday from a day of consumerism into a symbol of resistance and hope for workers everywhere.
Rajendra Acharya is regional secretary of UNI Global Union Asia and Pacific, and Dharmendra Kumar is convenor of the Amazon India Workers’ Association.