For more than a year, Amazon has been marshaling an army of ambassadors to defend conditions inside its warehouses, but the program is in the spotlight again, and not in a good way for the company.
Instead of improving the perception of Amazon fulfillment center conditions — an ongoing PR headache for the company — the ambassador program is renewing concerns over how Amazon treats the workers that power its massive e-commerce operation.
What’s new: Amazon began enlisting “FC Ambassadors” back in 2018 to tweet about their experiences working in fulfillment centers but the program went viral this month when the company tweeted an invitation to tour its warehouses.
Come take a free tour at an Amazon fulfillment center and see what our warehouses are really like. Check out the locations and reserve your spot online. #AmazonFCTours
— Amazon News (@amazonnews) August 1, 2019
Critics quickly started piling on, referencing reports of brutal working conditions inside Amazon warehouses. Several FC Ambassadors jumped in to defend the company, which only added fuel to the fire.
Background: FC Ambassadors started getting attention around this time last year. At the time, Amazon said the ambassadors were employees with experience working in fulfillment centers. Their roles as paid employees include time working as social media representatives who address warehouse conditions. Their posts frequently defend the company from criticism.
I suffer from depression too, and at one point I wanted to quit Amazon. But I realized it was my fault for the problems I was dealing with, and not Amazon's. I'm allowed to talk to people, but sometimes I don't want to. Now I have some great coworkers to pass the nights with.
— Hannah – Amazon FC Ambassador 📦 (@AmazonFCHannah) August 15, 2019
Conditions inside Amazon’s 75 North American fulfillment centers have been the subject of scrutiny for years, including a blistering piece by comedian John Oliver last month.
It’s an issue frequently raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who renewed his criticism last month and expressed solidarity with workers planning a strike. He and other lawmakers signed a letter asking the federal government to investigate Amazon warehouses.
Amazon responded with a blog post reiterating its invitation to Sanders to visit one of its fulfillment centers and see the conditions for himself. “He committed to visiting, but to date has never stepped foot in one of our buildings,” the company wrote.
In 2018, Sanders introduced a bill titled STOP B.E.Z.O.S. in reference to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The goal of the bill, to compel Amazon to raise wages for warehouse workers, was ultimately successful. The company raised the minimum wage for its workers to $15 per hour. Amazon also launched a $700 million worker retraining program this year.
Despite those changes, some Amazon warehouse workers across the country are attempting to form a union.
Noteworthy: There are some unanswered questions surrounding the ambassador program. As FC Ambassadors starting getting more attention, Twitter users noticed that several of the accounts appear to have changed hands.
This is so great. Remember those extremely real Amazon workers who were tweeting nice things about working there? Well Leo is now Ciera, Michelle is now Sarah, Rick is now James, etc. pic.twitter.com/q5LgITjMQ4
— Karen Weise (@KYWeise) January 30, 2019
One ambassador account appeared to change from a worker named Michelle to one who goes by Rafael. The latter tweeted confirmation that the account had been handed over to another ambassador.
Hahaha 😂 no this was a post from the previous ambassadors who was handling this account. That post was from 2018 and I only started doing this a few months back.
— Rafael – Amazon FC Ambassador 📦 (@AmazonFCRafael) August 15, 2019
Amazon confirmed that new ambassadors sometimes use existing accounts. No two ambassadors use an account at the same time.
What Amazon says: An Amazon spokesperson issued this statement in response to the attention the ambassador program is receiving.
FC ambassadors are employees who work in our FCs and share facts based on personal experience. It’s important that we do a good job educating people about the actual environment inside our fulfillment centers, and the FC ambassador program is a big part of that along with the FC tours we provide. This year alone, more than 100,000 guests have come to see for themselves what it’s like to work inside one of our FCs. If you haven’t visited, I recommend it.
What critics are saying: Skeptics of the ambassador program have been merciless in their Twitter snark, asking the account holders if they are robots and whether they are forced to tweet at gunpoint. Some created parody accounts mocking the tweets of the ambassadors.