Amazon training a 'sweatshop' cover-up?

The company launches a generous education program to help new employees pick up high-demand skills. But some people question the motive.

By Jul 24, 2012 1:36PM

Image: logo © EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty ImagesThis week, visitors to Amazon's (AMZN) homepage were greeted with an open letter from CEO Jeff Bezos seeking employees for the company's storage and distribution warehouses. The main draw is a new education initiative called the Amazon Career Choice Program, which will pay up to $8,000 over four years to equip employees with "high-demand" skills in engineering, information technology, or nursing. Bezos also touted improved safety conditions at Amazon's warehouses, which have been criticized as "sweatshops" after reports that employees at one warehouse were working in 100-plus-degree temperatures and needed medical care. 

So, while some praise Bezos' education drive, others see a huge public relations stunt. 

Is the worker-education program a sweatshop cover-up?

No. Amazon's program is a game-changer: "Amazon is setting the bar for" corporate-sponsored education programs, says Gery Menegaz at ZDNet, ramping up its efforts while other companies are cutting back in this area. Amazon prides itself on being a pioneering force, and this program distinguishes itself "by not mandating that the education be relevant to the employee's current position. . . ." With so much anxiety over America's failure to compete with other countries in the race for highly skilled workers, "here is an innovation that could help to catch us up."

Sorry. This is a cynical ploy to improve its image: It's suspicious that Amazon would use "its massively trafficked front page to broadcast this program," says Will Oremus at Slate. "In an economy full of unemployed people desperate for work," it's unlikely that Amazon needs "to blast all of its millions of customers to find a few hundred new applicants." The unemployed are not "the only intended audience here" -- with the bad publicity surrounding its shoddy working conditions, Amazon is sprucing up its image by cynically offering "generous-sounding perks that could contribute to the economy as a whole."

And the program could have a short shelf life: Bezos clearly wants to "give customers a warm and fuzzy feeling about shopping at Amazon,"says Tricia Duryee at AllThingsD. Bezos highlights the "unusual" nature of the program, which offers workers a career path outside Amazon and directs them toward positions more remunerative than warehouse work. But conspicuously, "Bezos made no long-term commitment to the program." He described the program, like other Amazon innovations, as merely an "experiment." 

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Tags: AMZN
Jul 24, 2012 2:48PM
Can't be any worse than the slave labor camps that Walmart and Disney employ in Indonesia. 8 year old children are literally sold by their parents and locked into these sweatshops against their will for 20 hour stretches. Sam Walton (who prided himself on selling American made merchandise) has to be rolling over in his grave to see what his heirs have done just in the name of greed.
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