News & Commentary

September 25, 2020

Rund Khayyat

Rund Khayyat is a student at Harvard Law School.

While Congress remains unwilling to pass a new coronavirus relief package, the new Thursday weekly jobs report makes the need for further fiscal action “obvious.” The report revealed a surprise increase in the number of initial jobless claims — 870,000 initial jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 19. That number was below the 860,000 claims last week and the 850,000 claims economists had predicted. Economic analysts have said the jobs number is yet another confirmation that the easy part of the economic recovery is long behind us.

Now, the reality of an economy operating at 80% capacity will require concrete fiscal recovery efforts to overcome labor stagnation. Since the government’s initial coronavirus relief package expired at the end of July, economists say investors shouldn’t expect consumer spending to rise without further support. The jobs report, by signaling that economic recovery has stalled, may apply pressure on Washington to move past its deadlock and provide meaningful relief for American families. 

A new whistleblower has revealed that Amazon has been monitoring its workers’ communications to track labor organizing efforts. On Thursday, an Amazon Web Services employee emailed internal Amazon listservs to warn staff recipients that a data farming project by Amazon’s Global Security Operations had monitored their efforts. The employee claims the company was keeping watch of listservs designed for underrepresented worker groups in Silicon Valley, including: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] The ‘we-wont-build-it’ listserv refers to employees who are against Amazon working with ICE and similar government entities.

The tech-giant has specifically flagged Whole Foods Market Activism/Unionization Efforts, Presence of Local Union Chapters and Alt Labor Groups, Presence of Community Organizations, Union Officials and Social Influencers. The whistleblower highlighted that not all Amazon listservs were monitored this way  — for instance, Amazon does not monitor [email protected], but it monitors [email protected] 

The whistleblower’s emails come as the e-commerce giant has faced intense scrutiny for its warehouse working conditions during the pandemic. On Sept 17, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to Bezos to demand that Amazon stop interfering with its employees’ protected union organizing efforts and stop spying on its their social media posts. 

Finally, an Associated Press (AP) investigation has linked some of the globe’s largest banks, and food and cosmetic brands, to widespread palm labor abuses in Malaysia and Indonesia. The report found that million of palm oil laborers from some of the poorest regions of Asia are enduring forms of exploitation — the most severe being child labor, slavery and allegations of rape. According to the AP, palm oil is virtually impossible to avoid. It is an ingredient in roughly half the products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands.

Of the 130 workers the AP interviewed from 24 plantations across two nations, almost all complained about their treatment, with some saying they were threatened, held against their will or forced to work off unsurmountable debts. Others recalled regular harassment by authorities, and being swept up in government raids and detained. They included members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya minority, who fled ethnic cleansing in their homeland only to be sold into the palm oil industry.  AP reporters claimed to have witnessed the alleged abuses firsthand, along with obtaining footage smuggled out of the plantations, as well as police reports and complaints made to labor unions. 

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