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Does “AmazonSmile” as it Says Goodbye?

Does “AmazonSmile” as it Says Goodbye?
Illustration by Diane Kim

Cassie Pataky

Senior Staff Writer 

On Jan. 18, Amazon announced that they were discontinuing their charity program AmazonSmile. This announcement comes two weeks after they announced they were laying off 18,000 workers, some of which were employed by the AmazonSmile program. The company claimed, “Our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin.” Instead, the company plans to focus on bigger investments in affordable housing, computer science education, food distribution, and disaster relief.

Illustration by Diane Kim

Many AmazonSmile contributors complain that the retraction of AmazonSmile donations severely impacts many small charities as, for their operations, any small donation helps. Some charities, like the Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary in New York, “reliably received a couple thousand dollars per quarter,” allowing them to feed and care for more animals. The loss of this money hinders the ability of small charities like this one to continue their operations and serve their communities.

Despite this outrage, I believe the “spread too thin” reasoning makes sense. While I want to support small charity organizations such as the Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary, the effects of the AmazonSmile budget were not apparent to me as a consumer or observer. By committing to causes such as affordable housing, a crisis we are all too familiar with, the effects of Amazon’s monetary social contribution will be more visible to the public. As these issues have a more widespread impact, I expect any action from Amazon in these departments to be widely publicized, and this greater-scale change will be more visible and recognizable. With that recognition, I believe more of the public would feel inclined to contribute towards such charitable causes as there will be a known impact. 

Further, AmazonSmile is still providing each charity with one last quarterly payment before going cold turkey, allowing these companies to retain their expected income until they decide how to proceed in light of this loss. While I recognize that a typical quarterly payment may not be much, and definitely isn’t preferable to the cessation of the AmazonSmile charity program, I think this action demonstrates a certain level of morality in Amazon — namely that it still cares about these charities and the decision to terminate AmazonSmile isn’t completely based on money. Or, Amazon is very skilled at creating good company PR. Either way, it is a beneficial investment, in my eyes.

While standing by the thought that committing itself to broader issues may increase the visibility of its charitable actions, I am skeptical as to what extent Amazon will commit to real change. Based on the past actions of Jeff Bezos, the Executive Chairman of Amazon, and the company management, Amazon has not seemed eager to allocate any significant amount of funds, as they promised, towards affordable housing, computer science education, food distribution, and disaster relief. 

Instead, as has been seen before, Bezos is known for spending funds on extravagant things, one of the most notable being when he flew in a rocket ship prior to giving attention to his warehouse employees who had been working in unfair and unsafe conditions. Is Bezos really going to care enough about these broad issues to donate a significant amount of money?

Finally, there is the question of the actual motives behind this switch, especially when it comes at the heels of 18,000 layoffs. Is Amazon really concerned with its impact or are they just cutting costs? Upon further research, the causes Amazon claims to be diverting funds to are those which Amazon has previously contributed to. Rather than committing to donate what it usually would with AmazonSmile, the company is merely continuing its previous philanthropic efforts (perhaps with more zeal?). Basically, it is an excuse to donate less. Amazon’s profits have dropped since their pandemic-time spike, and with the current economic decline, they and many other tech companies are scaling back.

In a strictly philosophical sense, I do not see anything wrong with Amazon’s decision to forgo its AmazonSmile charity program for larger investments into more general societal issues. The problem, however, is that Amazon is not donating the equivalent amount of money that it would under AmazonSmile to these programs it claims to be supporting. What may seem like a good diversion of resources from Amazon to make a bigger charitable impact is in danger of becoming an excuse to donate less. 

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