Amazon is no stranger to making headlines for a sneaky business dealing or two, or five… However, the Big Five technology company, e-commerce giant, one-stop-shop grocery store and now, most recently, fashion retail store owner, has been revealed to have another card up its white-collar sleeve. It’s been uncovered that the company has been quietly paying for US high schools to teach a class on how to work at Amazon. Interestingly, the classes take place in California, where Amazon is currently the largest employer.
We’ve seen in the past how Amazon has caused widespread destruction for many people in its ever-growing and endless pursuit of profit. From accusations that the company lied to Congress in late 2021 to rigging its own search results and copying other sellers’ products in order to rack up sales, Amazon is no stranger to playing dirty. Even then, funding its own child-to-employee pipeline seems to be a new low.
While becoming an Amazon grunt may not be at the top of anyone’s aspirations list, what with the corporation’s many dealings with mistreatment of workers, it didn’t seem to stop Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California from making a deal with it in 2019. Back then, the school introduced the ‘Amazon Logistics and Business Management Pathway’ to its students, a “first-of-its-kind” class made up of a series of courses with the goal of getting youth interested in logistics. More than interested in influencing the next generation of workers, Amazon donated a cheeky sum of $50,000 (£37,075) to the high school in order to provide the necessary resources for the programme’s start.
Such courses have been offered by the company to teach students, among other things, how to motivate employees without having to mention common incentives like raises or increasing worker efficiency. The alarm bells are ringing pretty loud, I think.
Delving further into the somewhat dystopian concept, Futurism reported that students taking the classes are also required to participate in “work-based” internships at Amazon or a different logistics company. It’s already bad enough that the company is bringing in minors for their employee training programmes and squeezing out some labour from them in the process, but the choice of location for all of this really takes the cake.
The public high school is located only a stone’s throw away from neighbouring Riverside County, home to over 40,000 Amazon employees, which has doubled in the past four years alone, according to a Motherboard investigation.
This fact becomes even more troubling when considering the fact that Amazon proudly offers grants to the kids living in this region with high-living costs while it leaves a large number of Amazon employees seeking financial assistance high and dry. Futurism even goes a step further, noting that the set-up of these internships is similar to the tactic military recruiters use when targeting underprivileged students.
According to the San Bernardino City Unified School District Facilities Planning and Development website, the project—which currently has 96 enrolled students (64 of them in the 10th grade)—aims to teach students “information and decision technology, management systems, and business leadership.”
Furthermore, “The program enables students to practice innovative and critical thinking skills as they develop solutions to authentic logistics problems experienced by Amazon.” Partnered with Cal State University and Chaffey Community College, the pipeline extends into further education. Listed under the benefits section, the post-secondary element includes “post-diploma, certifications, and workforce internships” for students.
Now, here’s where innocent intentions clearly start to fade and suspicion starts creeping in. One of Amazon’s “necessary resources” includes branding the high school’s classrooms designated for such courses (dubbed the Logistics Lab) with Amazon-associated colours. Oh yes, that signature yellow that is splashed across the room pictured above. The redecoration doesn’t stop there, in a 1984-esque dystopian dream, the company’s values—also known as its ‘Leadership Principles’ which include: “CUSTOMER OBSESSION”, “BIAS FOR ACTION,” and “DELIVER RESULTS” are scrawled all over the rooms’ walls. Not quite as harrowing as “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” but definitely more than a little nudge to become an Amazon worker.
So, what exactly does the class teach? Well, the curriculum covers a number of things. According to Motherboard, documents obtained via a public record request detail that the course consists of “lesson plans on managing labor unions,” “making ethical decisions,” and “motivating employees”.
So we’re just leaving out the part where there are lessons for managing unions in the course’s ‘Managing Human Resources and Labor Relations’ part when it’s widely known that Amazon has historically had a staunchly anti-stance on such matters? Students also get a rundown history lesson on the company in the ‘Global Logistics and Concepts’ unit, with Motherboard’s copy of the lesson’s description entailing: “Students will analyze and comprehend the footprint that Amazon has caused, and be motivated to participate in this exciting and growing field of e-commerce and logistics.” Not worrying at all.
High school preparation courses where students learn skills for future career paths with industry experts are not uncommon and actually have a multitude of benefits. Programmes within schools are often sponsored by or connected to companies with internships aligned, however, that doesn’t mean they are unbiased or that Amazon doesn’t influence anything that has to do with the scheme.
Documents obtained by Motherboard clearly confirmed the e-commerce giant’s interests in such courses, to “ignite student interest, create an intentional student, and provide an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the logistics community.” The documents outlined another intention of coaching teachers “how to establish and develop an effective industry partnership with Amazon.”
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on board with this ongoing project to create mini Amazon employees. Eric Nilsson, an Economics professor at California State University (CSU) shared with Motherboard that it’s “concerning” that students are essentially signing up to a propaganda course housed inside “a shrine to Amazon.”
Though this is certainly not the first troubling tango Amazon has had with the education system—it’s only the latest one since the company’s foray into STEM-boosting programmes for middle and high school students—the issue here is that impressionable students are being specifically taught how to function as Amazon employees in an environment that is already dedicated to the company and with the prize of internships and job security dangling in their faces.
Speak about freedom of choice, huh?
On Thursday 19 January 2022, Amazon announced that it would be opening its first-ever brick and mortar clothing store in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California. Dubbed Amazon Style, the store, set to open its doors later this year, will feature women’s and men’s apparel, shoes, and accessories from a mix of well-known and emerging brands. But that’s not even the biggest news—the shop will also include algorithmic recommendations and what one corporate director called “a magic closet” in the fitting room.
As some of you may know by now, Amazon first began testing the waters of physical retail when it opened a bookstore back in 2015. Soon after, it acquired upscale supermarket chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017. Since then, it has launched a number of other formats, including grab-and-go shops, stores that only feature top-selling items online, and even its own supermarket chain, Amazon Fresh.
When it comes to its involvement in the fashion retail industry, until now, Amazon had focused on growing its monopoly online—and boy did it succeed. According to CNBC, in March 2021, it “surpassed Walmart as the first apparel retailer in the US, and [its] apparel and footwear sales in the US grew by approximately 15 per cent in 2020 to more than $41 billion.” Those are some pretty impressive numbers we’re talking about here.
We all know that the e-commerce platform found early success with online apparel by selling a wide range of basics from both popular brands and its own private labels. It then comes as no surprise that Amazon is now opening its first physical clothing store—yet another opportunity for it to hook shoppers who might not have otherwise considered it as an apparel destination.
But how will Amazon Style function exactly? According to Reuters, model items will be displayed on the racks while customers will be able to scan a code using Amazon’s mobile app to select the colour and size they’d like to purchase. To try on the clothes, which will be stored in the back of the store, shoppers will have to enter a virtual queue for a fitting room that they’ll unlock with their smartphone once it is ready.
Inside, the dressing room will consist of “a personal space for you to continue shopping without ever having to leave,” Simoina Vasen, a managing director at the soon-to-be-opened shop, told Reuters. Each dressing room will include a touchscreen that lets shoppers request more items that staff will deliver to a secure, two-sided closet “within minutes.” Vasen went on to describe it as a “magic closet with seemingly endless selection.” Great, just what we needed.
And because this wouldn’t be an Amazon store without an algorithm somewhere to fuck with your decision-making skills, the touchscreens mentioned above will also suggest items to shoppers. Amazon will keep a record of every good a customer scans—technically, it already does so on its e-commerce—which will allow its algorithms to personalise clothing recommendations for them. Shoppers will also be offered to fill out a style survey as they enter the store. By the time they arrive in a fitting room, employees will have already deposited their requested items along with other options picked by Amazon’s algorithms. Spine-chilling, I know.
Oh, and if selling (once more) your palm print, soul and whatever’s left of your decision-making skills to an algorithm doesn’t sound good to you, Amazon did mention that shoppers will be able to opt out with a concierge’s help instead. Something tells me this option won’t be so easy to turn to though.