Amazon workers demand company quit polluting near communities of color

Hundreds of Amazon tech workers are pressuring Amazon to quit polluting — especially in communities near its warehouses. More than 600 workers signed a petition asking Amazon to bring its pollution down to zero by 2030. They also called on the company to prioritize deploying zero-emissions technologies near the communities hit hardest by Amazon’s pollution.

The petition was started after Amazon rejected a shareholder resolution asking the company to report how much pollution it emits in communities of color. Amazon says the proposal was similar to a resolution that was voted down by shareholders last year. Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for May 26th.

Amazon’s warehouses have mushroomed around working-class communities predominately made up of households of color, activists say. Those warehouses are magnets for pollution from diesel trucks, trains, and planes that are constantly moving goods to and from the warehouses for the e-commerce giant.

“Amazon shows up without informing the community about their encroachment. They show up with warehouses and delivery trucks that worsen our roads, our air.” Paola Dela Cruz-Perez, a youth organizer for the nonprofit East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice said during a shareholder briefing held today. “Amazon has been expanding their operations in Southeast L.A. neighborhoods like my own by exactly understanding how environmental racism works, and choosing to profit from this oppression.”

The workers organizing the petition are part of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. “As employees, we are alarmed that Amazon’s pollution is disproportionately concentrated in communities of color,” they said in a statement. “We want to be proud of where we work. A company that lives up to its statements about racial equity and closes the racial equity gaps in its operations is a critical part of that.”

It’s not the first time Amazon employees have pushed the company to create better environmental policies. In 2019, more than 7,500 workers backed a shareholder proposal asking Jeff Bezos to create a comprehensive climate change plan for the organization. While the proposal was ultimately shot down, it marked the first time tech workers had used their stock to push for real change.

Amazon workers have led a wave of employee activism in the tech industry, specifically related to Big Tech’s impact on the environment. In 2019, thousands of workers at Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook walked out of work to protest a lack of action on climate change.

Shortly before the walkout was scheduled to take place, Jeff Bezos announced he would be rolling out a fleet of electric delivery vans by 2024. The news did not change employees’ plans to protest, as they wanted to see stronger action.

In 2020, Amazon fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two key organizers with the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The company said the employees had violated a company policy which banned workers from speaking out about the business. The National Labor Relations Board has determined the firings were retaliatory and illegal.

Jeff Bezos has faced a lot of heat for flaunting Amazon’s environmental credentials and promoting his own climate action fund while his business continues to pollute neighborhoods. “He has an opportunity to do so much with the funds that he has provided out there, although I would still consider it chump change compared to the wealth that he has accumulated off the backs of our people,” Gabriela Mendez, a community organizer with the nonprofit Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), told The Verge last year.

Amazon has pledged to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2040, meaning that it won’t release more planet-heating carbon dioxide than it can capture or offset. But that commitment still leaves room for Amazon to keep producing some pollution, as long as it invests in carbon removal technologies, forest restoration, or other measures to cancel out its effects on the climate. The pledge also doesn’t address other harmful pollutants from tailpipes. Amazon workers are asking the company to completely eliminate emissions instead.

Amazon does have other initiatives that could cut down CO2 and other pollution. By 2030, the company wants to roll out 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. Amazon also plans to run its operations on 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.

“We’re committed to building a sustainable business for our customers and the planet, and using our size and scale for good. This includes investing heavily to build an environmentally-sustainable business and support the communities where we operate,” a spokesperson for Amazon said in an email to The Verge.

Amazon shareholders will vote on a resolution on May 26th aimed at tackling the company’s plastic pollution. The proposal asks the company to report how much of its plastic packaging ends up in the environment, and comes after Amazon disputed estimates from the nonprofit group Oceana that 22 million pounds of its plastic waste polluted freshwater and marine ecosystems.

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