Former Amazon employee Kivin Varghese, who has been protesting outside the company’s Seattle headquarters for the past two weeks, says he will start a hunger strike next week, with plans to continue until Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “puts forth a credible and accountable plan” to address what Varghese sees as fundamental lapses in employee treatment, corporate ethics and environmental sustainability.
Meanwhile, court records show that Amazon is seeking sanctions against Varghese for disclosing —through the media, blog posts and a complaint with the state Attorney General — what the company deems to be confidential financial information about a Kindle advertising campaign that sparked Varghese’s original complaint.
Varghese announced his planned hunger strike in a blog post, saying he was spurred into action by past media reports documenting the company’s working conditions and business tactics. He’s asking customers to boycott the company, and asking employees to help him bring about change.
GeekWire has been reporting on Varghese’s protest, but this twist was a surprise. We questioned him about his plan this morning — noting that it’s an extreme tactic under the circumstances, and asking how he expects it to turn out.
“What choice do I have? Crawl back home and move on? That’s not going to happen,” he replied. “I want to get customers engaged and prepared to shift buying away from Amazon during their big quarter — that is my best chance to get an agreement for lasting, accountable change. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Asked about the implications for his health, he said, “I will have a doctor monitoring my vitals so I’m hoping I can get a proposal from Amazon prior to organ failure.”
Varghese is involved in a protracted legal battle with the company, which has declined to comment on his protest. In his lawsuit, Varghese alleges that his former manager and Amazon executives covered up problems that caused an Amazon advertising customer, Discover, to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Kindle advertising campaign.
He alleges that he was fired in retaliation for raising the issues internally — using backdated and falsified performance reviews to justify his termination — and that his manager was subsequently promoted despite evidence that her own resume contained false information.
Protesting outside the company’s Seattle headquarters, he has been handing out a letter to employees calling on the company to augment its 14 leadership principles with new points addressing employee treatment, business ethics and environmental responsibility.
His efforts to get a response from Amazon have been unsuccessful so far.
In October, he sent a 29-page letter to Bezos and the Amazon board, and also filed the letter with the Washington state Attorney General’s Office. In a filing last week in King County Superior Court (PDF), lawyers for Amazon asked for sanctions against Varghese for disclosing confidential financial information as part of that letter, which was extensively excerpted in a Business Insider article.
As noted in court filings, Varghese also provided the letter to GeekWire, and he published it himself online.
Lawyers for Varghese defended his actions in their response (PDF), saying that he didn’t believe he was acting improperly.
While several of the documents cited in the letter had been marked confidential by Amazon in this litigation, Varghese did not believe he was violating the protective order in this case. To begin with, Varghese’s understanding was that he has a general right, as a citizen and a “whistleblower,” to complain to law enforcement authorities about what he believes to be deceptive conduct by the state’s largest retailer. Varghese did not think that the protective order in this case prevented him from exercising that right.
More recently, he said, he sent a message to Bezos and Amazon executive Jeff Blackburn asking for a proposal by Monday of this week to address the issues he has raised. In response, according to Varghese, he heard back from Amazon’s lawyer, who said that he planned to raise the issue of Varghese’s communications in a discussion with the judge in the case.