Amid criticism, Amazon appoints director of social responsibility

Christine Bader joins the company as it faces criticism from many sides

Amazon has appointed a director of social responsibility at a time when the online retailer faces mounting criticism over its business practices.

The new hire, Christine Bader, is an advocate for the idea that large corporations like Amazon can be a force for good. The author of "The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil," Bader worked on social responsibility issues for BP for nearly a decade, leaving two years prior to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Her hiring comes as Amazon is facing increased scrutiny over how its policies affect the outside world. The company's cloud services division has consistently received low grades in Greenpeace's cloud cleanliness reports, in part because the company refused to provide details about its sustainability plans.

There's also the matter of Amazon's treatment of people working in its fulfillment centers at home and abroad, packing boxes and shipping them out to customers. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor levied fines against five companies in connection with the death of Ronald Smith, a contract worker in Amazon's Avenel, New Jersey, warehouse. (Amazon was not one of the companies fined, but the logistics company it contracted with to oversee work at the site was.)

In its hometown of Seattle, Amazon's rapid expansion has created strife with community advocates. The city's rapid influx of well-paid tech workers has helped drive up housing prices, and the company runs several major construction projects in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. In 2012, the Seattle Times took Amazon to task for not contributing more to local charitable causes.

On top of all that, Amazon was criticized recently for its treatment of employees at its corporate offices. An article in the New York Times relayed stories of a bruising culture and internal backstabbing, while one former employee took to Medium to tell her story of what she saw as poor treatment by the company after having a baby and then being diagnosed with cancer. Bader was hired prior to the Times report coming out, though it's not clear if Amazon's internal culture will be part of the focus of her new role. 

"We have experienced heartache and disillusionment," Bader wrote in "A Manifesto for the Corporate Idealist." "But we also know that big business can make the world a better place, and feel compelled to do all we can to make that happen."

Besides her work at BP, she was previously an advisor to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for business and human rights. Most recently she was a member of Keurig Green Mountain's external advisory panel and a senior advisor at Business for Social Responsibility, facilitating the firm's Human Rights Working Group.

It will be interesting to see how Bader, who has an outspoken presence on the Web, meshes with Amazon's corporate culture, which traditionally is more quiet and closed off from the outside world. In line with its secrecy, the company didn't respond to requests for comment on this report. 

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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