On Sept. 8, the transnational firm Amazone announced the opening of a new headquarters in a North American city. Jeff Bezos, entrepreneur and founder and current CEO of the firm, currently considered as the richest man in the world, launched a call for applications.
His call launched a competition between states and municipalities ready to host this new headquarters, somewhere in Canada or the United States. Applicants were required to submit their application by Oct. 19.
Immediately, many cities respond to it. A Washington-based French correspondent for the right-wing weekly Le Point, in an Oct. 20 online article, reported the frenzy had reached a hundred U.S. municipalities, which in turn extol the merits and potentialities of their fiefdoms: Albuquerque, Montreal, Winnipeg, Atlanta, Toronto, Nashville, Quebec City, Ottawa, Sacramento, Atlanta, Vancouver and even Washington.
The mayors of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto reacted in the wake through tweets: While John Tory “really believe that Toronto is a leading candidate to host the second headquarters of Amazon” so that it feels “like at home in Toronto (…), a bold and innovative city that is full of technology talent.” For his part, Gregor Robertson added: “Excellent news! Amazon would be a fantastic addition to the global innovation ecosystem. ” Montrealer Denis Coderre seems “well intend to convince Amazon that Montreal is the perfect metropolis for their second headquarters in North America.”
Amazon’s head office is located in Seattle, approximately three hours from Vancouver. Since its opening, “the largest bookseller in the world”, the name it gives itself, has generated 40,000 jobs, ranging from cleaning shifts to highly qualified engineers. Since its launch in the 1990s, Amazon has become dominant in webcommerce, the cloud market and entertainment and seeks to become a large retailer. It is one of the “Big Four of the Internet” alongside with Facebook, Google and Apple.
A new headquarters is an appealing offer. Instead of expanding its headquarters, Amazon is seeking to expand its geographic influence to prove its power. Broadly, the call for applications would allow a municipality to develop economically, with more than 50,000 jobs and integration in globalization networks, to attract a young, freshly graduated and cosmopolitan population, motivated, highly qualified and ready to invest their cultural and creative capital in a company constantly looking for renewal in the services it has to offer.
It sounds good. Vancouver figures as a perfect location for the new headquarters. The city attracts a young, motivated populations and every year the immigration rate is growing. In the collective imagination, Vancouver is a multicultural green city, has a lot of jobs to offer, an exciting downtown and many available spaces in its suburbs to welcome the building of the headquarters.
Every silver lining has a cloud. For years, investigator journalists have attacked the firm. Amazon is accused by the most influential newspapers worldwide of favouring profits over its employees. The British press started to condemn work conditions in its warehouses. The Courier reported that some employees in a Scottish warehouse, located in Dunferlim, have to sleep in tents in a forest next to their workplace because they are paid so little.
On Nov. 11, 2016, a BBC’s journalist worked for two weeks at a depot in Avonmouth. His article, “A day life of an Amazon delivery,” reports that the number of deliveries he had to make was so huge, he had to put himself in danger on the road, and then sacrifice the human side of home delivery.
In his article, he reported he once received a call from his manager who told him, “If it’s not in your van forget about it and move on, stop trying to do costumer service. You don’t have to be nice.”
In 2013, an investigative journalist from The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr, in the article “My Week as an Amazon insider,” reported on indecent numbers of hours spent at work. Two years later, The New York Times reported on poor working conditions.
We are more used to this happens in “southern” or “developing” countries : Apple in China, slave workers in Dubai constructing a modern city in the middle of desert, H&M in India. Or what journalists talk about happen in wealthy-state-of-right-countries.
Why would the mayor of Vancouver host a company that infringes on primary workers rights? As well, the sting of the new headquarters in Vancouver could increase and accelerate the gentrification of Downtown’s Vancouver with the arrival of new workers looking for luxury flats and undocumented immigrants would end up working for low wages.
This reality underlines a reality of two-gear-globalization. Something which seems economically fair and profitable, could come at a human cost.