MAYA WHEELER: The Amazon wolf has outgrown its sheep’s clothing

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Over the last ten months, Jeff Bezos’ net worth rose by over $70 billion. In September it was reported that almost 100,000 businesses have permanently shut down during the pandemic across the US. While equally staggering statistics, the former represents an unfathomable amount of wealth for one individual.

The latter represents thousands of lost jobs and less food on the tables of hard working families, especially families of color, in Colorado and beyond. The rise of Amazon and other Big Tech companies has gone too far and their wealth, harmful actions and market dominance must end now.

At a congressional hearing in Boulder in January of this year, we heard a singular message from Amazon’s competitors: big tech has used its powerful positions in search, e-commerce and online ads to quash competition and beat rivals out of the market.

In Lendio’s recent American Dream Survey of more than 2,000 small business owners; it was clear that many viewed Amazon as a threat to their bottom line. In fact, two out of three small business owners said they view large corporations, such as Amazon and Google, as having a negative impact on growth opportunities.

It comes as no surprise to me that small business owners feel this way. Amazon’s actions have been well documented and their crusade against Main Street is relentless. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that often when Amazon makes and sells its own products, it uses information it collects from the site’s individual third-party sellers to replicate products.

This poses serious consequences to smaller sellers who cannot compete on price and scale of the product and eventually loses out as shoppers buy the cheaper Amazon copy.

Further, the company now controls nearly half of the online retail market in the US and is an active a market place for sellers. However, Amazon often changes their polices, taxes and fees with little warning and its erratic behavior can greatly affect small businesses who are having to jump through Amazon’s hoops just to stay afloat. One seller described the situation, by explaining “Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.”

Beyond small businesses, Amazon’s actions have seeped into our communities. In June, Amazon called for an end to “the inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people” in the US and put a “Black lives matter” banner at the top of its home page. Like other large tech firms, that was as far as they went.

No tangible action has been taken by the company to improve the lives of their Black employees and they maintain business practices that hurt communities of color. For example, 15% of Amazon’s workforce are Black – and of those, 85% work in its warehouses; warehouses where employees have reported having to urinate in plastic bottles due to lack of time for a toilet break.

Further, 80% of Amazon’s non-corporate facilities are located in zip codes with a high percentage of people of color. The dangerous emissions from the diesel trucks coming and going from Amazon’s warehouses disproportionately affect these communities of color, putting them at risk for asthma and other health problems in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to disproportionally kill people of color.

Black communities have shouldered the burden and risked their lives for Bezos’s pandemic boom.

Amazon’s growth and Jeff Bezos’ wealth can no longer go unchecked, especially as it is becoming increasingly clear that as they amass more and more of the market, they actively work to hurt smaller businesses and damage Black communities.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) has spoken out against Amazon’s predatory tactics that “disincentivize the kind of innovation that comes from small businesses” and I applaud him and others that have taken key steps. However, we cannot stop now and more must be done.

I urge Congress to act by passing thoughtful, bipartisan legislation that will unequivocally address the unregulated power of Big Tech companies now. With antitrust cases being brought against Google and Facebook across many states in the last week, we must capitalize on this movement before it is too late. Our families, workers and small businesses need help today and if not now, when?

Maya Wheeler is a community development consultant and past president of Colorado Black Women for Political Action.

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