Amazon’s Wasteful Choice
Scotland’s lack of action against big corporations means the narrative of blaming consumers will continue.
By Aidan Bridgeman
Image courtesy of Chris Watt for the Scottish Government under CC BY 2.0
The 22nd of June saw the release of an ITV investigation into Amazon’s operations in Scotland and the wider UK, specifically in its Dunfermline fulfillment centre in Fife. Undercover footage revealed that millions and millions of Amazon stock is being destroyed each year, meaning that products brand new and unopened are being wasted—in bulk quantities. Despite the pandemic pushing up the demand for home office supplies and personal computing products, much of the waste includes top end laptops, headphones, and other electrical equipment, as well as Covid-19 personal protective equipment.
Massive, town-sized fulfillment centres such as the one in Fife hold stock on behalf of companies all around the world. They do this so that products from abroad can be closer and more convenient for customers in Scotland and the north of England. If products sit idle in the warehouse for long enough, Amazon gets rid of them because the cost of holding them begins to outweigh the profit from selling them locally. Since many of these products are coming from overseas, it is more economical to destroy the products than return them to the original vendors.
Amazon likely is not panicked about the current media narrative surrounding this story and ones like it. Most revolve around the disposable and hyper-consumerism culture we currently live in; many choosing simply to blame the consumer instead of the mega corporations that control the wealth in this country and around the world.
This is a tired narrative. One that we all know. It’s all good and well if we’re doing our part, but what about Amazon? Shouldn’t this be a two-way street? Will more environmentally friendly alternatives be effective for us and Amazon? Consumers often go out of their way for inconvenient yet green alternatives, but corporations such as Amazon do not. Additionally, blaming consumers is going to get us nowhere in battling the climate crisis because unless we all band together and perform some collective action brilliance, mega corporations continue to hold the power—as they do right now.
As a market failure, market solutions cannot be the answer. Government action is needed. Rather unhelpfully, the Scottish Government has a weak record on holding global corporations to account. Millions of pounds of public money have gone directly to Amazon through Scottish Enterprise, a governmental authority encouraging business in Scotland. Moreover, the government has spent £4.7 million for AWS (Amazon Web Services) in the last financial year. Funding needs to reach elsewhere in Scotland—small businesses and local communities would benefit tenfold compared to corporations already showering in profits, especially after the pandemic’s devastating blow to the economy. Further increasing Amazon’s monopoly is the last thing we should do.
Consumers cannot be to blame. To do so is disrespectful. To do so is to ignore the exhausting advertising and carefully crafted consumerism culture created by corporations making people think they must buy more and more.
Amazon may say they have set up in Scotland to serve the increasing demand, and they may say they do their charitable part, but in reality this demand has been crafted over years and years, and in reality their operations are, ultimately, about increasing profits, not providing a quality and sustainable service.
We need bolder action by the government, who claim to be so progressive, in stripping the subsidies they reward Amazon for exploiting the planet and workers alike. By brushing aside the statistics and tacitly supporting the media narrative of consumer blaming, the waste problem will remain unchanged.