Amazon workers claim their jobs were threatened for speaking out about climate change

Amazon claims it changed policy to “make it easier” for employees to speak out.

January 3, 2020, 2:25 PM

Some Amazon workers claim they were threatened with termination after speaking to the press about what they say is Amazon's responsibility to do more to combat climate change, according to a group of environmental activists who work at the e-commerce giant.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a climate action group started by Amazon employees, said in a statement Thursday that Amazon updated its policies about workers speaking to the press in September, just before the group's planned climate protest.

"Amazon tech workers have been contacted by Amazon legal and HR representatives and questioned about public comments they had made around Amazon’s responsibility in the global climate emergency," the statement said. "Some workers then received follow-up emails threatening termination if they continue to speak out about Amazon’s business."

As part of the protest organized by the group, more than 1,000 Amazon employees walked off their jobs in support of the Global Climate Strike, a national march to raise awareness for climate change, in September, calling on the company and its CEO Jeff Bezos to do more to tackle climate change. The march garnered national headlines.

"Now is a time when we need to have communications policies that let us speak honestly about our company’s role in the climate crisis," Karen Costa, a user experience principal designer at Amazon, said in a statement.

Costa claims she was threatened with termination for speaking to a news outlet, according to the worker's group.

"This is not the time to shoot the messengers," she added. "This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out."

PHOTO: Amazon workers begin to gather in front of the Spheres, participating in the climate strike in Seattle, Sept. 20, 2019.
Amazon workers begin to gather in front of the Spheres, participating in the climate strike in Seattle, Sept. 20, 2019.
Elaine Thompson/AP, FILE

An Amazon spokesperson told ABC News Friday that its external communication policies for workers is similar to other large companies and recent changes were implemented to "make it easier" for employees to participate in media interviews.

"Our policy regarding external communications is not new and we believe is similar to other large companies. We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company’s logo," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

"As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed," the statement added.

The company spokesperson said updates made to the approval process included "building an intranet page for approvals rather than gaining approval through email and reducing the number and seniority of approvers required."

The External Communications Policy applies to all Amazon employees, according to the company. If a worker may have unknowingly violated the policy, the company says it makes the worker aware of the policy and approval process.

Justin Campbell, a data engineer at Amazon, said the policy is "not going to stop the momentum tech workers have built over the past year at Amazon."

“The climate crisis is the greatest challenge we face and the only way we can find solutions is by protecting people’s right to speak freely and disrupting the status quo," Campbell said in a statement.

In September, a day before the group's planned climate march at Amazon, Bezos seemingly responded to the workers, revealing new company efforts to tackle climate change and pledged to have net zero carbon emissions by the year 2040. This is 10 years ahead of the international Paris Agreement's goal of 2050.

“If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon -- which delivers more than 10 billion items a year -- can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can," Bezos said at the time.

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