A vice-president of Amazon has resigned, saying he “despised” the way the company had treated staff who criticised its pandemic measures.
Tim Bray, a vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS), had been with the company for more than five years after working with Google and Sun.
Bray, a co-author of the XML standard, said Amazon was “the best job I’ve ever had”, and noted that staff at AWS were treated “humanely”.
But at other parts of the company it is “a different story”, Bray said, citing the Amazon’s decision to fire staff who had protested what they called insufficient virus protections.
The firm has said the sackings were all for unrelated reasons, but Bray said they were “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture”.
He said Amazon had fired staff had been organising another protest and had spoken against the company on climate issues.
“At that point, I snapped,” Bray wrote in a blog post, adding that he had first raised his concerns internally.
“That done, remaining an Amazon (vice president) would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned,” Bray wrote.
He said working at Amazon had been “rewarding fun” and estimated that leaving would probably cost him more than $1 million (£800,000).
But he said remaining would have been like drinking “poison”.
“Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets,” Bray wrote.
“It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”
Amazon is under fire for its treatment of staff during the coronavirus pandemic, with the state of New York investigating it over the decision to fire the organiser of a small protest about safety conditions at a warehouse.
But the company faces wider issues over its hostility to unionisation at its warehouses, its use of customers’ personal data, its tax avoidance outside the US and other issues.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has been called to testify before a US Congress panel investigating broader antitrust issues and, in particular, whether Amazon used data from its own third-party sellers to develop own-brand products.
The company has defended its record on staff safety during the pandemic, and said last week it expected to spend all its profits for the second quarter – about $4bn – on coronavirus protective measures.
Amazon declined to comment on Bray’s remarks. The company has previously said it supports its staff’s right to speak out, but added this “does not come with blanket immunity”.
Bray said Amazon employees Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were fired due to their ongoing criticism of the company’s environmental record, but Amazon denied this, saying Cunningham and Costa had been terminated “for repeatedly violating internal policies”.
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