The Amazon CEO and entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, has grown his vast fortune by a further $24bn so far during the coronavirus pandemic, a roughly 20% increase over the last four months to $138b.
Bezos owns an 11% stake in the company and has been the world’s richest person since 2017.
A surge in demand has driven the business to near peak holiday season levels, with households on virtual lockdown and many millions staying indoors. Amazon’s share price rose by 5.3% to reach a record high on Tuesday.
As the US’s coronavirus outbreak first spread, Bezos saved himself from larger losses by selling a large portion of his shares. He then benefited from the best three-day stock market rally since 1933. The late rally helped Amazon’s share price to recover almost all of its losses in March.
But the increased demand comes amid growing controversy over the retailer’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Workers have reported severe strains on warehouse teams. Many are on the frontlines packing and shipping items at warehouses where Covid-19 can easily spread.
Several have confirmed cases of employees testing positive for the virus.
Amazon reported its first warehouse worker death on Tuesday. The man, an operations manager who worked at the company’s Hawthorne, California, warehouse, died on 31 March.
Several workers have organized strikes and walkouts in protest at lack of worker protections. Chris Smalls, a former manager assistant, was fired by the retailer after leading workers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, on a walkout.
Employees demanded Amazon temporarily shut down the facility for cleaning after multiple employees tested positive for Covid-19.
Memos leaked by Vice News revealed company executives suggested coordinating an attempt to smear Smalls as “not smart or articulate” in response to the backlash over his firing.
Several Amazon workers have since alleged retaliation for organizing. In an op-Ed for the Guardian, Smalls urged Bezos to spend more time on protecting his workers instead of stifling dissent.
“Without us working, what are you going to do,” he asked. “You’ll have no money. We have the power. We make money for you. Never forget that.”
Amazon did enact safety measures inside its warehouses, including a six-foot distancing rule, supplying cleaning materials and hand wipes for workers, protesters said. The company also introduced mandatory temperature checks before each shift.
Despite the strain, the retail giant also announced it will resume non-essential shipping at warehouses nationwide, which was temporarily halted due to the demand for medical and other sanitary or food supplies.
Amazon has also hired 100,000 extra US workers to cope with demand, and noted it will hire another 75,000.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos is one of the few billionaires to have seen an increase to his net worth since the beginning of 2020.
source: thegaurdian.com by Kenya Evelyn