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The Real Cost of Free: Amazon Prime & “Independent Contractors”

on Thursday, Apr. 24th

Google the word “externality” and you’ll find this definition:

a side effect or consequence of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved, such as the pollination of surrounding crops by bees kept for honey.

Don’t let the positive example at the end there fool you. Most of the time when businesspeople speak of externalities they are talking about how they found a way to foist their costs onto someone else. That usually means the government, consumers, or the environment. Sometimes they even find a way to foist it onto their employees… just don’t call them employees. Call them “independent contractors.”

A damning expose on the independent contractors who work for Amazon went online today from Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson.

Anyone who shops regularly online, particularly with Amazon, has to marvel at how quickly and cheaply packages arrive on the doorstep these days. Many of the millions of Amazon Prime members — including this reporter — may have noticed, however, that not all packages are ferried by workers wearing the familiar UPS, FedEx or U.S. Postal Service uniforms. Instead, they’re sometimes handled by smaller companies like LaserShip, with drivers working on contract and out of their own vehicles.

Delivery drivers are the real Amazon drones — workers who hustle to feed our growing demand for next-day or same-day delivery from online retailers. And as the e-commerce industry continues to grow, the drivers classified as independent contractors are the ones feeling the squeeze.

Now to be fair these business practices were not invented by Amazon, and as the article makes clear they are not even directly responsible. They just set up the incentives for such an ecosystem to exist. Between the shady labor practices and the lack of transparency on environmental matters you have to wonder how Amazon gets such a free pass from mainstream media.

I guess that’s just what happens when everyone is out for number one.

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