California’s Inland Empire is filled with hardworking people focused on providing for their families — lifestyles that most wealthy Amazon executives probably can’t relate to. So it should come as no surprise that a recently leaked document illustrates what Amazon really thinks of Inland Empire residents and leaders: A community that can be bought off to turn a blind eye to the company’s abusive labor practices at its increasingly bigger warehouses that pollute the region’s air and make people sick.
The eight-page document – the company’s “community engagement plan” for the upcoming year – details Amazon public relations strategy to advance its business interests in the Inland Empire. Influence, above all else, is paramount: Amazon makes it clear that charitable giving is only worthwhile if it curries favor with the public and politicians. Building relationships with elected officials is only valuable if warehouse development is at stake or when pushback from activists arises.
In fact, the leaked internal document is stark in its clarity: “We will not continue to support organizations that did not result in measurable positive impact in our brand and reputation.” To Amazon, investing in the Inland Empire is not about helping those in need or being a good neighbor in the community. Rather, it is a PR strategy aimed at growing its bottom line and fooling people into forgetting about the significant negative consequences it has brought to the region.
Perhaps Amazon’s cynical view of the region, its leaders, and its workforce shouldn’t be a surprise. A cursory look at the recent Amazon news cycle reveals its sordid history of union-busting and anti-labor efforts across the country. Federal labor regulators have filed numerous complaints against Amazon for violating labor laws, paying millions for anti-union consultants, and intimidating unionization efforts at distribution facilities.
Of course, labor issues aren’t the only reason Amazon’s reputation in the Inland Empire has suffered in recent years. The corporation’s massive warehouse boom in the region has had a severe impact on the environment and is reportedly causing health issues for local residents. The People’s Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) conducted a study in 2021 that found the drastic increase in truck pollution due to these warehouses is correlated with an increase in poor air quality and related health problems.
Moreover, the study found that the populations living within half a mile of Amazon warehouses in the Inland Empire are 85 percent people of color — communities that are disproportionately subject to the toxic air created by warehouse emissions. Amazon has created an environmental justice issue in the region, and has yet to acknowledge, let alone fix, the problem.
But instead of taking real actions to address these concerns, the leaked document shows that Amazon instead is choosing to throw money at PR campaigns aimed at fixing their reputation and buying support. In fact, perhaps the most damning part of the leaked document is Amazon’s brazen admission that it “cultivated” an Inland Empire mayor through donations and private tours.
Amazon may have its 2024 “community engagement plan” to deal with its repeated public relations disasters. But now that its strategy has been made public, the Inland Empire knows it cannot trust the company’s motivations. Instead, it should recognize that Amazon only views its community investments and charitable giving as pawns in a game of reputational chess.
David Contreras, a co-founder and board member of @techLatino:The National Association of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology. He is also the President of TechLatino Los Angeles Chapter.
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