Amazon is known as a quick-and-easy go-to for everything from books to gifts and groceries, conveniently delivered to the doorsteps of homes and businesses. Many Americans rely on Amazon on a regular basis, especially in the past two years as many consumers have switched from brick-and-mortar shopping to online retailing.
Yet, even as Amazon continues to expand its customer base, it is taking actions that undermine the freedoms of the employees, consumers, and shareholders who depend on it for services, jobs, and prudent stewardship of investment capital.
Amazon earned an alarmingly low score on the Viewpoint Diversity Score 2022 Business Index, which measured 50 publicly traded corporations on the Fortune 1000 in industries like, banking, software, and Internet services. Overall, Amazon tallied just 6 percent—tied with Twitter for fifth lowest scoring company overall.
To raise its score, Amazon should live up to its stated commitment to “transparency” by responding to the Viewpoint Diversity Survey – disclosing policies and practices that directly impact the free speech and religious freedom of stakeholders on its platform, in its workforce, and through its public affairs. In addition, Amazon should take steps to alter several of its current policies to clarify terms, while adopting protections against religious or ideological discrimination in its services and charitable giving.
Let’s take a closer look at Amazon’s score and explore how the Internet retailer can correct course to respect the diverse viewpoints of its shareholders, employees, and customers.
Amazon scored the lowest on the Public Square section of the Index, where it missed out on all 27 possible points. But that score doesn’t simply reflect Amazon’s failure to protect its stakeholders’ fundamental freedoms. In just the past few years, Amazon has opposed legislation that would protect religious freedom and shareholder proposals to increase transparency surrounding potential viewpoint discrimination in its services. For example, Amazon lost points for supporting the Equality Act, a proposal that would actually undermine equality for women and people of all religious faiths.
Additionally, Amazon’s Public Square score lagged because the company joined a friend-of-the-court brief which urged the Washington Supreme Court to rule against Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who serves all people but was punished by the state after politely declining to celebrate and participate in the same-sex wedding of a long-term client and friend. Supporting coercive attempts to crack down on private business owners for acting according to their deeply held beliefs is bad for business and damaging to the American public.
One important factor in achieving a high Market score is the use of precise terminology in user policies and terms of service that prevent arbitrary decisions to restrict access to service or censor content based on a user’s religious or ideological viewpoints. But Amazon prohibits “content” on its platform deemed “hate speech… or other material…(that is)… inappropriate or offensive.” (See more examples of corporate suppression of free speech here). These vague and imprecise policies open the door to targeted discrimination against people or groups because of their values or ideas.
When a company wields discretionary control over the classification of content as “inappropriate” or “offensive” without disclosing what (if any) guidelines it has for such determinations, it opens itself up to unnecessarily discriminating against and alienating a large portion of its customer base. Amazon has used such policies to suppress speech with which it disagrees. Closing this open door to censorship would raise Amazon’s Market score and demonstrate respect for those across the political and ideological spectrum.
While still a modest showing, Amazon scored 10 percent on the Workplace section. The company gained points for expressly prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of religion and creed. But to earn full points going forward, Amazon will need to address at least three shortfalls. First, the company currently fails to recognize any employee resource groups (ERGs) for employees of different religious faiths. ERGs offer important mediums for employees to build and access community, mentorship, and career development. Amazon has a wide range of groups, such as “Amazon Women in Engineering,” “Asians@Amazon,” “Warriors@Amazon,” and “Body Positive Peers.” Yet, there is not a single ERG for employees of various religious backgrounds. Second, its workforce training includes divisive concepts drawn from Critical Theory – dividing people along lines of race, religion, sex, and political views. Employee training should further the success of the company and each individual on the payroll. Yet, Amazon is undermining its ability to do so by hosting trainings that feature activists like Robin DiAngelo, who teach that people are racist simply because of the color of their skin. Instead of continuing down this path, Amazon would do well to adopt approaches like those offered by BrighterSideHR (here) that restore unity, and mutual respect in the workplace.
Finally, Amazon lacks a policy that promotes respect for diverse beliefs at work. By implementing our model policies, the company could substantially increase its score and ensure a workplace that values and respects religious and ideological pluralism.
Call to Action
Amazon’s low score is no doubt worrisome, but it’s not too late for the Internet giant to respect the diverse viewpoints of its customers, shareholders, and employees. Companies like Amazon should utilize our model polices, tools, and other resources to take practical steps to foster true diversity and pluralism in their products and services, workforces, and public affairs.