Employment in Amazon could be at risk for workers who are speaking publicly about the company’s role in the climate crisis. Amazon has threatened to fire employees for their public comment unauthorized by the company, tech workers at the retail giant have revealed.
Amazon’s human resources department launched an “investigation” into one employee, Maren Costa, over her comments to the media calling for more action on the part of the company to tackle the climate crisis, an email shared with the Guardian shows.
In the email, Costa was given an ultimatum that any of her future comments unauthorized by Amazon “may result in formal corrective action, to and including termination of your employment with Amazon.”
The legal and HR representatives have questioned several members about their public comments, a group of Amazon employees said, who called for stronger climate action by the company. Similar to Costa’s, some even received follow-up emails threatening the dismissal for speaking publicly in the future.
Four employees have been enquired, and two have been threatened with termination on passing comments further about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis without seeking approval, Costa said.
Costa, a user experience principal designer, said: “It was scary to be called into a meeting like that, and then to be given a follow-up email saying that if I continued to speak up, I could be fired.
“But I spoke up because I’m terrified by the harm the climate crisis is already causing, and I fear for my children’s future. Any policy that says I can’t talk about something that is a threat to my children – all children – is a problem for me.”
However, according to Amazon, it was not aimed at any particular group of employees. The company said, from last year’s spring, it started updating its external communications policy for staff.
A company spokeswoman said: “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.
“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.”
After the company announced a “climate pledge” in September, the threats to Costa and other employees occurred. Amazon commits to use 100% renewable energy by 2030, before becoming carbon neutral by 2040. Amazon has ordered 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles for its fleet to fulfill this.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said he was “done being in the middle of the herd” on climate policies at the policy’s unveiling. It took place just a day before 1,500 Amazon employees planned walkout to join a wave of global climate strike rallies being inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.
Amazon’s shift on climate change was a victory for its employee group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Earlier, the group had pushed a shareholder resolution to set a climate change plan though unsuccessfully.
Subsequently, an open letter was signed by further 8,000 Amazon employees to Bezos calling for concrete climate goals; to cancel tie-ups with oil and gas companies, and to stop giving away donations to politicians who deny the reality of the climate crisis.
The new policy of Amazon requires staff members to seek permission from the company before talking in a public forum while identified as an employee. According to the Amazon employees, the company updated its policy on staff speaking to the press and on social media in early September, just a day after they announced to join the climate walkout.
Victoria Liang, a software engineer at Amazon, said: “Amazon’s newly updated communications policy is having a chilling effect on workers who have the backbone to speak out and challenge Amazon to do better. This policy is aimed at silencing discussion around publicly available information. It has nothing to do with protecting confidential data, which is covered by a completely different set of policies.”
Bezos, the world’s richest person, has promised to review Amazon’s political donations understanding the concerns of employees. However, he has rejected calls to sever ties with oil and gas companies.