As Amazon Takes Heat on Worker Safety, a New Documentary Investigates the Cost of Its Convenience

February 12, 2020

In recent days, Amazon has been publicly positioning itself as a force for good in the American economy, touting its record as a leading job creator and its commitment to training and educating its workforce.

The push comes as 15 Democratic senators — including Bernie Sanders and his fellow presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren — sent a letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos condemning what they said was the company’s “dismal” record on worker safety and calling for change to its “profit-at-all costs culture.”

That debate is part of a new FRONTLINE documentary premiering Tuesday, Feb. 18, examining the company’s ascent and asking tough questions about the consequences. Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos investigates how Amazon’s founder and CEO built a business empire that is unprecedented in the history of American capitalism.

Stream the extended trailer for Amazon Empire right now, at the top of this story.

As Amazon comes under scrutiny for aggressive tactics, treatment of workers and concerns about its market dominance, Amazon Empire traces how Bezos transformed a tiny company run out of a garage into a staple of American consumerism that critics contend seeks to dominate the market at all costs.

In the documentary, FRONTLINE speaks with former employees at Amazon fulfillment centers who describe intense working conditions, and who say they struggled to keep up with the rate at which Amazon expected them to pick and pack items.

The documentary also draws on nearly 20 interviews with current and former executives and employees, including Jeff Wilke, one of two CEOs under Bezos, who created the Amazon fulfillment center system, and who defends the company’s treatment of workers and its commitment to safety.

Beyond working conditions, Amazon Empire also investigates how Bezos executed a plan to build one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world — and the questions about power, privacy and product safety that have accompanied the company’s rise.

“Everything that is admirable about Amazon is also something that we should fear about it,” Atlantic staff writer Frank Foer tells FRONTLINE. “Amazon is not just an inescapable fact in the life of the American consumer…But it’s an inescapable fact in the life of every single corporation in this country.”

For the full story, watch Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos when it premieres Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 9/8c on PBS stations (check local listings), online and on the PBS Video App.


Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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