Every year since 1997, Jeff Bezos has written Amazon’s annual letter for shareholders. This year, it was written for the first time by Amazon’s new CEO Andy Jassy.
In his letter, he describes the company’s revenue last year as “astounding.” He also addressed complaints that Amazon’s warehouses are unsafe, calling the company’s injury rates “misunderstood.”
Amazon’s online sales boomed during the pandemic. At one point in early 2021, revenue was 43% higher than it was a year before.
Demand has dropped somewhat since that peak, but Jassy writes that many of those pandemic customers have stuck with Amazon.
The increased demand put a big strain on Amazon’s distribution network and its workers.
“We spent Amazon’s first 25 years building a very large fulfillment network, and then had to double it in the last 24 months to meet customer demand,” Jassy writes.
When Jassy became CEO last summer, he embedded in the company’s warehouses, looking for pain points. He said he started rotating workers out of repetitive jobs, and asked employees to take short breaks to stretch, or at least breathe deeply.
In his letter, Jassy called the company’s injury rates “misunderstood,” explaining that, while warehouse injury rates are “a little higher than the average,” injury rates among its delivery workforce were lower than average, making Amazon’s overall injury rate better than at peer companies. Still, Jassy said the company must do better.
At Amazon’s annual meeting next month, shareholders will ask the company to examine working conditions more deeply.
In paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholders cite a report from Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries finding that Amazon “did not provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injury,” particularly at Amazon’s BFI3 warehouse in Dupont, Washington. In the filing, shareholders said workers “had to break safety rules to keep up with mandated quotas and pace of work out of fear of losing their jobs.”
Amazon recommended shareholders vote against the proposal to hire an outside firm to examine its warehouse safety record. The company’s official response stated that “safety is integral to everything we do at Amazon, as demonstrated by our relentless focus on health and safety training, engagement with employees, and refinement of our processes to improve working conditions.”
Other issues that will come up at the shareholder meeting include Amazon’s use of plastic packaging, whether the company silences workers who raise discrimination or harassment complaints, and how the company treats employees who seek to form unions.