Farhad Manjoo does indeed get the beginnings of this point correct. There are those who are worried about the way that Amazon treats its workers. There are those who shop at Amazon and yet also have other choices about where to shop. The solution here is that those who care about the worker conditions don’t shop at Amazon until the conditions improve.
That is, we live in an economic democracy, each $ is a vote. Don’t vote for the conditions you don’t like, vote against them in fact. For it really is consumer desire and consumer behaviour that changes the activity of producers. That’s rather the point of the system after all, that’s why it actually works. Producers are incentivised to deliver what consumers want by the very fact that consumers have a choice.
To me it is far from obvious that boycotting Amazon is the best way to reform American retail in a way that results in greater safety and prosperity for workers. But that doesn’t mean that consumers have no power. To a degree greater than many of its competitors, Amazon has thrived by accommodating its customers’ desires. Consumers can now try to marshal that power on behalf of Amazon’s workers. There is one thing Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, seems to care about above all else: What his customers want.
I suspect that if he were pushed to take employees’ safety as seriously as he does price or selection, Bezos could do more than just about anyone else to improve the lives of America’s workers by radically improving conditions at Amazon to set a standard for rivals to follow.
I can sense readers ready to mock me as Bezos’s credulous stooge. I understand that impulse; it is becoming impossible not to feel icky about shopping at Amazon.
Great, so, stop shopping there. Buy elsewhere. As soon as Jeff Bezos – he’s a bright lad, won’t take long – works out why sales are falling then he’ll change the way he treats the workers.
Well, that is, if enough people think strongly enough about worker conditions to make a difference to Amazon’s sales of course. But fortunately this is a self-solving problem. If enough people don’t care to boycott Amazon then there’s no change necessary anyway as not enough people care, do they?
Of course, some people really do care, a lot. And on some things all of us care a great deal. Those great deal things might even lead to a change in the law – we no longer stuff waifs up chimneys for example and it’s not just because technology has got better. But where only a few people care a lot and most just don’t give a damn then there isn’t that requirement for the law, is there?
$15 an hour, company health care, indoor work, nah, most just don’t give a toss about the workers in Amazon warehouses. So, nothing need be done – precisely and exactly because an attempted boycott wouldn’t work, that’s how we work out that most don’t give that toss.