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In response to an Amnesty International report to Amazon this past June “raising concerns about human rights risks in connection with Amazon’s operations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (‘KSA)”, the company provided a lengthy response that Amnesty has published. This response is both good and bad; other companies facing similar criticism can learn from it. Things Amazon did well:

  • Responded quickly (the Amnesty letter is dated June 14 and Amazon responded July 29).
  • Admitted problems and took responsibility for the actions of the third-party vendor at which the problems were identified.
  • Immediately investigated and engaged with the third-party vendor to address its compliance with Amazon Standards.
  • Took efforts to “put in place better controls for all [third party] Vendors in KSA to prevent similar risks from arising in the future.”

On the other hand, some information in the company’s response gives a different feeling about the situation. For instance, Amazon states that “the activities performed at these locations are carried out by a combination of Amazon employees and workers (‘Contracted Workers’) who are staffed to Amazon by third-party licensed temporary labor agencies (‘3P Vendors’)”, indicating that blame for any wrongdoing doesn’t rest solely with the third party labor vendors.

Then there is this:

“We continuously assess risks across our vendors, and an Amazon audit earlier this year uncovered similar issues to those raised by Amnesty. While we considered immediately suspending this vendor when these allegations came to light, we determined that it was in the best interests of their employees, many of whom traveled from other countries to KSA for work, to instead work diligently with the vendor to make significant changes to their operations… In this case, we made the decision to not add any additional workers from this vendor until they are compliant with our standards.” 

To be blunt, this sounds like the company didn’t take the situation seriously initially. And the last sentence could be interpreted to indicate that – without adding “any additional workers from this vendor” – existing workers are overworked to the point of violating Amazon’s labor standards on maximum allowable work hours.

It’s absolutely important to respond to specific accusations in a timely, truthful and clear manner. At the same time, it is valuable to take a step back from the details to see if the overall story told by the response inadvertently creates inconsistencies or raises more questions.

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Photo credit: Sundry Photography –

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile