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04-Jan-2017 01:24

Within the corporate world, Amazon now ranks with Apple as among the United States’ most esteemed businesses.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, came in second in the Harvard Business Review’s 2012 world rankings of admired CEOs, and Amazon was third in CNN’s 2012 list of the world’s most admired companies.

Amazon is now a leading global seller not only of books but also of music and movie DVDs, video games, gift cards, cell phones, and magazine subscriptions.

Like Walmart itself, Amazon combines state-of-the-art CBSs with human resource practices reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This was treated with derision on the union side, but at all Amazon’s centers, and especially those in the United States and the United Kingdom, the cult of the customer is a serious matter and provides the rationale for the extreme variant of scientific management whose purpose, as at Walmart, is to keep pushing up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at or near poverty levels.

As at Walmart, Amazon achieves this with a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dextrous employees will begin to fail.

In December 2009 Mark Onetto, chief of operations and customer relations at Amazon and a close collaborator of Bezos, gave an hourlong lecture on the Amazon Way to master’s of business administration students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

But there was nothing gay (in the traditional sense) or insouciant about the Amazon workplace that Onetto described for UVA’s MBA candidates.

There were six packing lines at Amazon’s Augsburg center, each with two conveyor belts feeding tables where the packers stood and did the packing.

The first conveyor belt fed the table with goods stored in boxes, and the second carried the goods away in sealed packages ready for distribution by UPS, Fed Ex, and their German counterparts.” But alongside these digital controls there was a team of Taylor’s “functional foremen,” overseers in the full nineteenth-century sense of the term, watching the employees every second to ensure that there was no “time theft,” in the language of Walmart.

There is still more humbug in the air because Amazon treats a second significant grouping of men and women with whom it has dealings—its employees—with the very opposite of care and trust.

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Amazon’s employees are almost completely absent from Onetto’s lecture, and they make their one major appearance when they too are wheeled in as devotees of the cult of the customer: “We make sure that every associate at Amazon is really a customercentric person, that cares about the customer.”But as so often in Amazon’s recent history, it has been in Germany that this humbug has been stripped away and the true role of the “cult of the customer” has become clear.In a fine piece of investigative reporting for the London Financial Times, economics correspondent Sarah O’Connor describes how, at Amazon’s center at Rugeley, England, Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met.



Like most such corporate mission statements, Onetto’s uses a coded language that hides the harshness of his underlying message, which needs translation along with a hefty reality check.… continue reading »


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Robyn is the Executive Director of Loving More Non-Profit, a national leader for polyamory awareness, polyamory counselor, workshop facilitator and writer.… continue reading »


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