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The tech employee backlash, Whole Foods edition

August 13, 2019
amazon, whole foods
amazon, whole foodsWhole Foods Market

The news: A group of anonymous Whole Foods employees is calling out Amazon (which bought the supermarket chain in 2017) for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). An open letter, posted via the group’s Twitter account, criticizes Amazon for providing cloud computing services to Palantir, a data analytics company that works for ICE, which has been cracking down on undocumented immigrants. The group, called Whole Worker, also asks Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition technology, Rekognition, to law enforcement and demands that it stop business with “any other company involved in the continued oppression of marginalized groups.”

Unrest at Amazon? The letter from Whole Worker is notable because it shows that unrest within Amazon exists among workers not directly involved in its tech businesses. Whole Worker also leaked a 45-minute video on Amazon’s union-busting methods last September. The video recently appeared on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. 

Elsewhere in the company, employees have been protesting Amazon’s relationship with ICE for over a year,  though momentum has grown recently because of anti-ICE protests. Last month, employees of Amazon Web Services circulated a letter that also demanded the company stop working with ICE.

However, it’s hard to say how widespread the disquiet at Whole Foods is or whether it is growing. A member of Whole Worker reportedly told Business Insider that the group has “several dozen” committee members and 280 people “involved in internal communications.” Whole Foods employed 91,000 people as of two years ago.

Unrest at large? It’s not just Amazon. Employees at many top technology companies have been critical of their employers’ partnerships with the military and government. Last year, employee unrest led to Google’s decision not to renew Project Maven, an artificial-intelligence collaboration with the Pentagon. Similarly, the company stopped working on Project Dragonfly, a Chinese search engine, after employees protested. Employees at Microsoft signed an open letter urging the company not to bid on a US military project called JEDI.  

What does Amazon say? Amazon has not yet replied to the Whole Worker letter. But in a statement regarding earlier calls to stop working with ICE, the company said it’s up to the government to make rules about how to use technology. 

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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