Amazon reportedly threatened to terminate employee climate change leaders

Amazon logo on a wall
Amazon logo on a wall (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Amazon Employees for Climate Justice organize to change environmental practices.
  • The group says two of its leaders were sent threatening letters by management.
  • Amazon has recently updated its policies on employees speaking publicly.

Last April, more than 8,700 Amazon employees signed a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking for the online shopping giant to end its support of oil and gas companies and to lower its impact on the environment. Later in the year, a number of employees walked out. Now, organizers of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice say their leaders are being targeted and threatened by Amazon for speaking out publicly against the company.

The group says that two of its leaders were sent letters from Human Resources over violations of the company's external communications policy. Amazon previously required employees who wished to make public addresses seek approval from a senior vice president. That policy was changed last year to give approval power to lower-level managers, with an online submission tool for employees to use.

In theory, this may sound like Amazon tried to become more accepting of employee public speaking, but in practice, this likely had a chilling effect. A senior vice president would be more likely to delegate approval and stay out of the weeds on employee management issues like this, thus giving Amazon employees more opportunity to speak out. Now that the duty is in the hands of the day-to-day managers who feel much more accountable for every action of their direct reports, it seems less likely that Amazon employees would be able to speak openly.

Amazon spokesperson Jaci Anderson says that employees can suggest "improvements to how we operate through those internal channels," but that suggests that major climate change protests should be directed to a Senior Manager, instead of the person in charge.

'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 ... This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speking out.' – Maren Costa, a User Experience Principal Designer at Amazon who was threatened with termination.

Amazon employees walked out in September, though in much smaller numbers than those who signed the original letter to Bezos. A day earlier, Bezos had announced Amazon would rely entirely on renewable energy by 2030, and would be carbon neutral by 2040.

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Philip Berne