|The remains of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois after an EF-3 tornado. https://abc7chicago.com/|
In 1994, the online book retailer Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos. Today, it is one of the largest e-commerce websites in the world that offers millions of products. Selling efficiency and profitably online has never been easier for established firms and even first-time entrepreneurs. With accumulating an over-abundant number of products over time, Amazon has built 110 warehouses within the U.S to store and distribute products to customers at any location in the least amount of time as possible. Each warehouse is operated by a minimum of 1,500 full-time employees with the addition of any part-time employees that consumer demand requires for smooth operation. In December 2021 at the Edwardsville, Illinois Amazon warehouse, a tornado touched down and destroyed half of one of the buildings on site. Unfortunately, six individuals’ remains were found by disaster relief teams after rummaging through the extensive damage. The biggest unanswered question is if this tragedy could have been avoided.
At about 8:35 p.m. on December 10, 2021, an EF-3 tornado touched down with 150 mph sustained winds that had ripped through the 1.1 million square foot warehouse. The Enhanced Fujita Scale classifies an EF-3 tornado as a strong storm that causes severe damage and is powerful enough to destroy well-concreated structures (NOAA). Before touchdown, there were an estimated 40 to 50 employees within the warehouse and multiple drivers still returning from their daily route. The first extreme weather warning was issued roughly 40 minutes before the tornado hit, according to firefighters and the Illinois governor (CNN). Amazon did acknowledge that the alerts were noticed by management, and they were ready to act and utilize the designated shelter-in-place areas. These areas were the small bathrooms throughout the warehouse, but management led employees to the north side of the warehouse on this occasion. Amazon did not comment as to whether the bathrooms were the best and safest spaces for employees to congregate in any shelter-in-place scenario.
As for the remaining Amazon delivery drivers that were returning from their route, they sought safety at the warehouse, but some only found death. According to Summer Paolini, a dispatcher for Boxify Logistics at the Edwardsville warehouse, as the weather worsened the drivers in route to the warehouse were told to park their vehicle in a designated area or just drive home (CNBC). However, a small handful of other drivers were told to return to the warehouse regardless of the weather. Experts say that the tornado likely formed only a few hundred feet from the warehouse with no efficient time for any person to react properly. The drivers that were told to return did so right before the tornado formed. They had no knowledge of where to seek proper shelter in this scenario. As they rushed into an entrance on the south side and hid, the tornado’s initial path favored the middle-south portion of the warehouse. The National Weather Service said that the extremely high winds from the rapidly intensifying tornado ripped the roof off the football field-size structure and the 11-inch-thick concrete walls fell in on themselves (BBC News).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened its own investigation immediately after the tragedy occurred. OSHA’s investigation primarily consisted of making sure all regulations and standard codes were followed by Amazon. The investigation hit a dead end as there were no specific violations found. Factors like the construction of the warehouse are outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction. Fast forward to April 1, 2022, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has launched a new investigation into Amazon’s labor practices around severe weather events that is focused on the Edwardsville warehouse fatalities (MSN). Numerous reports have been made that Amazon threatened to fire any employees that left their shift, the employees were not allowed to have their cellular devices on hand, and that dispatchers were to contact delivery drivers only with Amazon’s consent. Representatives in the House Committee are demanding documents on the company’s emergency preparedness requirements, the information on how the processes were executed at the warehouse on December 10th, and all the communication records between managerial staff leading up to the tornado. All this documentation and information must be produced by April 14th.
Amazon states that this investigation is unnecessary, and that their focus continues to be on supporting the employees, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornado (NY Times). Amazon said at the time of the tragedy that it was donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation as well as providing relief supplies. No updates have been announced as to whether Amazon followed through with this statement. In recent developments, civil rights attorney, Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family in 2020, has stated he is representing the families of the deceased employees along with any other traumatized or physically injured workers and their families. Crump stated, “The family members we represent are deeply distraught and want answers to their questions. We are seeking to determine if Amazon did everything in its power to warn employees of the incoming danger from the tornado and provide a designated safe area for employees to shelter," (ABC) which is a question asked by OSHA as well.
|Benjamin Crump is a widely recognized lawyer who is most acknowledged for representing George Floyd's family. He is now representing the families of the deceased from the Amazon warehouse collapsing in 2021. https://www.yahoo.com|
The stakeholders within this case would include the company (Amazon), the employees/injured, the employees’ families, customers, the government, and the community. All eyes are on Amazon as their deadline date for information and documentation is approaching. The actions that CEO Andy Jassy takes will be an indication of the type of attitude and cooperation levels Amazon is willing to proceed with and overall will affect the company’s image. The injured Amazon workers that were identified as dead in this case were Deandre S. Morrow (28), Kevin D. Dickey (62), Clayton Cope (29), Etheria Hebb (24), Larry Virden (46), and Austin McEwen (26). Five were delivery drivers and one was a maintenance mechanic. The employees’ families of all individuals working on December 10th were affected as their loved ones were knowingly in harms way, which caused unimaginable psychological strain. Amazon’s customers were affected as the destruction of the warehouse resulted in delayed deliveries of ordered products during the gift giving season of Christmas. Customers rely on Amazon to deliver products fast to their doorsteps and expect high value service for the prices they pay. The government is affected because the members of the House Committee are exerting their time and energy into a case that could have been avoidable, which distracts them from analyzing present day cases effectively. The government officials active in this case are Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), and Cori Bush (MO). The community of Edwardsville is emotionally affected by the loss of loved ones that were inside the warehouse and physically affected by the destruction of their town from the tornado’s path.
Describing “Individualism,” Milton Friedman states, “The only goal of business is to profit, so the only obligation that the businessperson has is to maximize profit for the owner or the stockholders within the law of the land.” From Freidman’s views, we can see the possibilities and reasons why Amazon had kept their workers in the Illinois warehouse back in December 2021, even with the dangerous weather conditions that were at hand.
When looking further into the legality side of things when it comes to the safety of the building and inclement weather procedures, Amazon did not commit any specific acts against the law or violations against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the initial investigation. However, they can be found civilly liable for negligence and possibly criminally liable for not allowing their employees to leave the plant before the tornado struck. With the re-investigation of the case in motion by the government in 2022, it is possible that there could be a class action suit against Amazon. A class action suit forms when there are so many plaintiffs suing Amazon that the Attorney General's office of the government will make one cumulative lawsuit. This is because all the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have the same interests.
After analyzing the general outline of the past and present legality aspects of the case, we can now determine whether Amazon's actions are deemed permissible or impermissible. Amazon's actions are currently deemed permissible, according to Friedman, because the initial investigation conducted by OSHA, after the tornado's devastation, found no actions or physical flaws that had violated any safety codes or regulations. This means Amazon was maximizing profits within the constraints of the law even though every employee's life was knowingly put at risk. The incident occurred in the month of December, and as we all know, Christmas is at the end of the month. In 2021, Amazon reported a gross profit of $54.577 billion for the quarter ending in December. This figure shows that December yields the highest profits of any quarter. If Amazon would have evacuated the warehouse based solely on the tornado warnings, the profit stream would have been negatively affected as millions in revenue would have been lost. Amazon acknowledged the tornado warnings that night and left it to chance if the tornado did touch down, but also had believed it could not be held accountable since it was a natural disaster that no human force can influence. On the contrary, Amazon’s actions would turn impermissible according to Friedman if the re-investigation initiated by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform leads to a class action lawsuit which could find Amazon’s actions to have been negligent. If found civilly liable or criminally guilty of negligence, Amazon would have to pay a colossal amount of money to the plaintiffs. This means that Amazon’s short-term mindset back in 2021 cost them long-term profits and could therefore be classified as stealing from the owner and stockholders of the company since Amazon will have to pay for the physical and emotional damage inflicted upon their employees and their family members.
From a utilitarian standpoint, the administrative actions taken by Amazon on December 10th are deemed impermissible. Under utilitarianism, business actions should seek to maximize the happiness in themselves and others in the short-term as well as the long-term (Salazar 17). In the Amazon case, happiness was not maximized for many of the stakeholders, which makes the consequences from the company’s actions restrict the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals and therefore would be impermissible according to utilitarianism.
Amazon: In the short run, Amazon was maximizing its happiness and profits by allowing its employees to continue working before and up to the tornado forming. This case takes place during the month of December, which is the company’s peak season for inflowing revenue. With the complications of the destroyed warehouse and injured employees, Amazon has not maximized its happiness in the long run because of the loss of a distribution center that began losing them thousands of dollars by the minute, but also the negative press and government pressure that is following their wrongful actions.
Employees/Injured: All the employees that lost their lives have been stripped and exterminated of their happiness because Amazon kept them working during the tornado. The number of dissatisfied customers that did not receive their packages does not outweigh the lives of 6 employees. Regardless, the packages that customers would have been expecting would have been delayed anyway due to the destruction of the warehouse. Therefore, happiness was not maximized for these employees and Amazon was putting profit over the safety of their employees.
Employees’ Families: The employees’ families will have a chance at benefitting from this case because they are attempting to seek justice from Amazon’s negligent actions that will help maximize their long-term happiness. The direct family members of the individuals that died in the warehouse have filed a lawsuit against Amazon for the permanent emotional damage that has been inflicted upon them.
Customers: The customers that purchased their products from Amazon at the time of the initial destruction of the warehouse were negatively impacted because of the delay of receiving their orders, which counters the purpose of paying additional money for Amazon Prime two-day delivery service. This demonstrates that their short-term happiness was not maximized. This case does benefit the customers’ long-term happiness because Amazon can now use this as a first-generation problem, which allows the opportunity for in-depth analyzing to ensure the problems that arose will not likely happen again, thereby maximizing customers’ happiness in the future.
Government: The government officials listed in the stakeholder’s section are state representatives whose salaries are composed of taxpayers’ money. The unethical decisions made by Amazon on the night of December 10th does not maximize the long-term happiness of these state representatives as it restricts their ability to protect the people that elected them from the issues arising each day. In addition, the money and resources they must utilize to investigate this tragedy could have been used for another issue or they may have a budget restriction that does not allow them to investigate as deeply as they would like.
The Community: It can be said that for many of the community members of Edwardsville, their short-term happiness was almost non-existent due to the broken relationships from the deaths of individuals after the tornado. Also, community members’ physiological needs were threatened with the destruction of Edwardsville, which triggers adrenaline and fear that overcomes people’s ability to psychologically function correctly. However, this does present an opportunity for a small portion of community members to maximize their happiness long-term. They can use this natural disaster to establish new roots in or outside of Edwardsville as the insurance money they have collected, and the Amazon/private donor funds will give them a financial cushion to do so.
The theory of Kantianism was created by Immanuel Kant. Kantianism has 4 basic elements and the 3 formulas of the Categorical Imperative; Formula of Humanity. The formula of Universal Law and the Formula of Autonomy. The Categorical Imperative is the Law of Rationality. I will only discuss and apply the Formula of Humanity. The basic elements are; act rationality, your actions must not be inconsistent or consider yourself exempted from the rules, help people make rational decisions and allow them to do so, you must respect all people’s individual needs and differences and their autonomy, and you must be motivated by Good Will and seek to do what is right simply because it is right. There are certain actions that come from good will and they are acting rationally and acting rightly motivated. The formula of humanity is “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (Kant, MM 429). You must treat humanity rationally and not treat people as mere means. An end is something valuable in itself, for its own sake. A means is something that is valuable as a way to get something else. “Our primary duty is, according to Kant, to act only in those ways in which the maxim of our acts could be made a universal law” (Desjardins 39). Maxims are the will to do an action to achieve a purpose.
In Amazon’s case, they did not meet the 4 basic elements of Kantianism and their actions are considered unethical. Amazon treated its employees as a mere means. Kantianism would respect the employee's individual rights and needs. During times such as a tornado, to follow Kantianism, you must respect the employee's needs at that time. The Formula of Humanity states that you must treat humanity always as an end and never as a means. Amazon failed to treat their employees as an end when they did not give employees proper training to be safe in weather-related incidents. Treating their employees as a mere means exploits the employee. Amazon used its employees for their own benefit. They took advantage of these employees during severe weather so that they could make their assigned quota. Amazon did not care about the process it took to meet the quotas, they only care about the end result. In this case, them not caring about what it took to meet the quota for that day resulted in employees being stuck in a warehouse during a deadly tornado. Amazon would be considered morally unethical in terms of Kantianism.
Virtue theory is originally based on Aristotelian Functionalism. This theory believed something was good depending on what it is and if it fulfills its function well. This is expanded on by Aristotelian Functionalism which states people who live good lives by functioning well will also live happy lives. The main way people ‘live good lives’ is by being virtuous. This is where the virtue theory comes from. Within the virtue theory there are four cardinal virtues: courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Along with those there is one intellectual virtue called prudence. Any virtue including these cardinal virtues, depends on the thing’s function and the thing’s circumstance. Another key concept in virtue theory is the doctrine of the mean. This is explained by finding the middle of two extremes. For example, if cowardice and rashness were at two ends of a line, courage would fall in the middle. When following virtue theory, you should strive to reach that ideal middle point. Finally, one of the most important aspects of virtue theory is to realize that it is not enough to know what is virtuous or right, you must practice doing it. Someone is only truly good when it becomes automatic to them, which is the point everyone following the theory strives for.
In this Case if Amazon did not do everything in their power, even if that means by one small thing then it would be impermissible by the Virtue theory. It is Amazon's moral obligation to forget about the productivity of the business or the bottom line if their employees are in immediate danger. Carnegie Mellon, an economics professor stated, “The cost of the time to do the drills is also time they are not (moving) the packages,” he said. “They must think about these tradeoffs.” (PBS)This was in response to multiple employees stating they received no tornado drills or training. If Amazon really cared, they would have had the courage to use some time to properly train their employees. Their courage would then ensure employee safety and preparedness for the imminent threat of a tornado.
Additionally, if Amazon was honest, they would have treated their employees as people instead of a means to an end. According to Rachel Clayton “Everyone knows that all Amazon cares about is productivity” (BBC) she is not the only one that believes this. Many of their employees and family members have made statements that Amazon has made employees work through tornado warnings. It would not be too far off to believe that the company did that this time as well. If Amazon was honest the warnings would have gotten out immediately and all employees would have made it to the main shelter. Following the next virtue temperance, it would have been reasonable and expected for all employees to have to have the proper drills and training as stated before. Given that all these employees work hard and produce quality services for amazon, they deserved the last virtue, justice. This related to the company treating them with fair practices and not expecting them to work during tornado warnings as an anonymous employee stated, “Amazon workers in different parts of the US, said it was "inexcusable" that the company required people to work despite the tornado warning.” This is completely unreasonable and unjust for an employee of any company. If all these statements are true amazon would certainly not pass the virtue theory.
On the other hand, the families of the victims would pass the virtue theory. They have been courageous enough to take legal action against one of the biggest companies in the world. They have done this by partnering with civil rights attorney Ben Crump. They are being honest and just want Amazon to do the same and release all the critical facts and details. They certainly have temperance by reasonably expecting Amazon to do the right thing in this situation which would be protecting the employees. Lastly, the families are seeking justice for their lost ones who were high working and quality workers. These families would certainly pass the virtue theory
The ongoing issue with Amazon is that six employees were killed this past December from a tornado that collapsed one of its warehouses. The families and other employees believe Amazon did not do everything in their power to protect their workers that night. It is an unethical practice for Amazon to risk the wellbeing of their employees for more profit in which the actions also build up a negative brand image for the world to resent. In this scenario, for Amazon to make employees keep working during natural disaster warnings has cost them millions to date and perhaps millions more while the new investigation is being launched by the government. The new mission statement Amazon must use as a guide for the future is that the company should strive to provide the whole world with access to any product they desire while maintaining a safe work environment for the employees that distribute the products efficiently. Some core values we believe Amazon should follow are honesty, customer satisfaction, employee safety, dependability, and accountability.
The solution to ensure ethical productivity for unexpected future events that could potentially harm employees would be to immediately evacuate warehouses when warnings given by trained experts say it is no longer safe for human inhabitation. Amazon will want to develop new policies that each employee is prepared for so that procedures run smoothly instead of chaos taking over. Of course, the warehouse will not be operating while employees are evacuated and the customer order system will be at a halt. However, if Amazon were to develop a simple transfer of orders system, it could automatically send incomplete orders to the next closest warehouse to be fulfilled. This system would keep Amazon’s profit streams going, protect each employee's safety, and help ensure customer satisfaction with dependable service. Amazon does not need to remarket itself from the Illinois incident. The company just needs to show that they are making a conscious effort to ensure employee safety since they are still the leading online retailer to date with no signs of slowing in demand.
Amazon should create a new supervisor role where that person can oversee employee safety and training within the workplace. The supervisor could also make sure all employees and managers are up to date with specific safety drills such as sheltering for a tornado. Doing this would ensure that all employees have knowledge of what to do in a dangerous situation at the workplace. While adding this position, Amazon should also remove any manager or executive that played a role in the improper or lack of training in their employees. After that when new managers join Amazon, they could make sure they prioritize the workers’ safety over its profitability in dangerous situations.
|Simple designated areas that should be continuously reminded to employees by specialized supervisors in case of an emergency to lower the risk of injuries.|
Authors: Logan Los, Dillion Kohl, Thomas Gasbarro, Dylan Kaselouskas
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