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In its 18 short years, Amazon's bargain prices and its logotype A to Z arrow (or customer satisfaction "smile") have earned the company worldwide notoriety, and Amazon is now one of the biggest online retailers in the world. But if you've been reading The Seattle Times' scathing series of reports, Amazon isn't as idyllic of a company as some may have thought. With purported grievances that run the gamut from sales tax evasion to poor warehouse "fulfillment center" conditions, to a glaring lack of philanthropy, the Times suggests that Amazon's image, especially in its home base of Seattle, has become a source of contention amongst the community, the company's peers, and even its employees. But if you're getting the deals you crave, readers, do you care?
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1995, and what began as an online bookstore, has emerged as a major player in consumer goods, from books to baby food and beyond. Amazon's office — formerly a garage in Seattle — now occupies the most real estate in the downtown area. But its growth is in some ways uncharted, as the company won't acknowledge how many of its employees actually work in its Seattle facilities. And speaking of working, in another part of its series, The Seattle Times reports on how Amazon's striving for efficiency is costing workers their health and their jobs.
Running a tight ship is crucial for a growing company, but The Seattle Times also points out that the company's most widely acknowledged shortcoming is its lack of charitable giving. The company's physical proximity to Microsoft (and thereby, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) makes Amazon's lack of donations to the likes of the Alliance for Education, the Seattle Art Museum, and the United Way even more stark. The Times article even quotes an interviewee that compares Bezos to the late Steve Jobs of Apple, who many considered to be skeptical of philanthropy. That's not to say that Amazon hasn't contributed to some foundations (Amazon donated amounts between $1,000 and $10,000 to a variety of Seattle nonprofits, from the Pike Place Market Foundation to the Rainier Valley Food Bank), but its scale of giving pales in comparison to its profits.
On the flip side of the argument, Amazon supporters hammer home the notion that the company operates on very tight profit margins and, in an effort to keep growing itself as a business, cannot contribute in the same ways its competitors do. Bezos himself believes that, like Steve Jobs, his company itself gives back to communities by offering technologies that have positive impacts on education, commerce, and people's general well-being.
But is a tight profit margin an excuse for not playing an active and sizable role in the community? Or is a company's focus on its business model striving to deliver constantly low prices to its consumers more important? Sound off in the comments. And to read more from The Seattle Times' series on Amazon, click here.
Front page photo credit: Personal Money