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A Cog in a Machine

Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014

The first 20 student comments on “A Cog in a Machine” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, April 27th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

**DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

George is a junior at a small university in Washington State. He is a frequent user of Amazon to purchase materials for college including textbooks and school supplies. In fact, George has an Amazon Prime account to save money on shipping, since he uses the site so often. George has recently started to take advantage of his prime account by purchasing almost everything on Amazon, from clothing to books to head massagers. On average, George uses the website three to four times a month.

One day, George is perusing the Internet and notices an article headline that shocks him: Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers.

George reads that Amazon is not only scientifically managed to the T, but that the employees are treated more as cogs in a machine than as human beings. He reads that Amazon uses monitoring technology to track movements and performance of employees. The company has conducted several studies to find the fastest way to perform tasks in the warehouse. All employees are instructed to follow the “one best way” of completing tasks for maximum efficiency. The logic behind this strategy is to ensure that employees are customercentric, creating a “cult of the customer.”

George goes on to read that workplace pressure at Amazon pushes up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at a barely livable rate. The speed required to complete tasks causes many employees to struggle to meet targets and less skilled employees often fail. If an employee fails three times, Amazon uses a three-strike policy and fires him or her.

George is shocked by this article, but at the same time he doesn’t know what to do. He has already paid for his Amazon prime membership and relies on the website for most of his purchases now.

Should George continue shopping online on Amazon? How credible is this one article? Can George rely on this article to make an educated decision, or does he need to conduct more research? Should customer satisfaction be held with utmost regard, even if that means that employees are treated as robots and pushed to unrealistic limits? Is it ethical to treat employees as a cog in a machine, or a means instead of an end? What can George do to better the circumstance of the Amazon workers, if anything?

Useful Resources:

A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

Photo by thisisbossi available under a Creative Commons license.

Comments Comments

Kawal said on Apr 22, 2014
We all care more about low prices than employee treatment. As long as we get cheap products who cares. George can do more research on the matter and decide not to buy anything from Amazon but unfortunately Amazon has such a high consumer base that this one customer banning them would make no difference at all. The whole nation has to come together and fight for everyone's rights. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Ian said on Apr 22, 2014
Dude speak for yourself Kawal, there are many people that would never buy anything whose origins they were unaware of or uncomfortable with. In fact I know a lot of people like that and when I am able to support myself and have a consistent income I will do my best not to buy cheap products made in bad labor conditions. If you think that no one cares about labor conditions, which is ignorant and an absolute fallacy, then how do you expect the whole country to "come together"? - Like
Ian McCluskey said on Apr 22, 2014
While the labor conditions in Amazon's warehouses may not be ideal, there are very few large, multi-national corporations whose warehouse conditions are considered comfortable for their workers. If George is interested in the ethicality of supporting the local economy, then he should consider continuing to purchase goods from Amazon because the company employs tens of thousands of people in Seattle, WA alone, to do translations, marketing, communications, engineering, environmental consulting and more. And they are known to pay very high wages to their skilled workers and professionals. Maybe, instead of boycotting Amazon, which will have virtually no effect, he can look up how to distinguish between products that are being manufactured in modern slavery conditions and products that are made responsibly, and choose to buy only the latter. - Like - 1 person likes this.
s clabaugh said on Sep 17, 2014
Is this something of a "if they do, we can too." Two wrongs make a right, perhaps? - Like
topic_check said on Apr 25, 2014
Except that the specific issue at hand is the specific treatment of the warehouse employees that will be fulfilling your order of ethically or unethically produced products... - Like - 1 person likes this.
La Shae Brown said on May 5, 2014
The unfair treatment of employees should effect the use of our minds to proceed using something that employees are sacrificing for costumers. Employees should have rights an until than I would chose not buy anything from Amazon. Even though Amazon has good bargains,George should not buy anything from Amazon because of the unfair treatment of the employees. - Like
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Tags: college students, decisions, economy, ethics, workers