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Amazon lobbyists banned from European Parliament

Amazon lobbyists have had their access badges to the European Parliament revoked, following allegedly repeated refusals to engage with lawmakers on issues around working conditions and rights

The European Parliament has revoked the access badges of Amazon lobbyists, preventing easy access to its buildings, after the firm failed to attend multiple meetings about the labour conditions of warehouse workers.

The Parliament’s secretary general withdrew Amazon’s 14 entry badges following a formal request by members of the employment and social affairs (EPML) committee, who say the company has repeatedly refused to engage with them to address concerns about labour rights and working conditions.

As a result, no Amazon lobbyists will be issued with any new access badges until further notice. Amazon has confirmed that while its lobbyists will still be able to access European Parliament buildings, they will now have to be signed in like any other visitor.

In a letter to European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, MEPs of the committee said Amazon had declined to participate in a January 2024 hearing about working conditions in its warehouses, marking the fourth time since 2021 that the company had declined to engage with it.

“Amazon declined to participate, citing an excuse of short notice,” said the letter from MEPs. “It is unreasonable for members to be lobbied by Amazon while at the same time being deprived of the right to represent the interests of European citizens and inquire about claims of breaches of fundamental rights enshrined in EU Treaties and EU labour laws.”

Other instances of alleged non-engagement included Amazon cancelling a scheduled visit by MEPs to its warehouses in Germany and Poland in December 2023; CEO Jeff Bezos refusing to testify before the committee in April 2021 while it was investigating the firm’s labour practices (the company sent a written answer instead); and Amazon representatives refusing to participate in another hearing around the same time.

In a statement following the withdrawal of Amazon lobbyist access, committee chair Dragoș Pîslaru said Amazon’s refusal to engage in public dialogue with lawmakers has “made it impossible for MEPs and European citizens to gain first-hand accounts from the company’s management on the pressing questions and allegations concerning Amazon’s breach of fundamental rights of assembly, association, collective bargaining and action, as well as fair and just working conditions.”

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He added that “dialogue, transparency and respect for the EU citizens are non-negotiable values” that must be respected by all stakeholders, and while Amazon appears ready to now cooperate, “it just remains to be seen how this will happen in practice in the next legislature and if lessons were truly learned”.

The call to revoke Amazon lobbyist access has been supported by at least two dozen civil society and activist groups – including Foxglove, Corporate Europe Observatory and Article 19 – which also wrote to Metsola in early February 2024 calling for access badges to be taken away.

They said that “considering the size of Amazon in Europe and the resources and presence it has”, its refusal to engage with MEPs “is a wilful obstruction of the democratic scrutiny of the company’s activities”.

They also pointed out that, since 2013, the company has spent at least €18.8m lobbying European institutions.

Amazon responds

An Amazon spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed with this decision, as we want to engage constructively with policymakers. As a company that has been active in the EU for more than 25 years and now has more than 150,000 permanent employees here, we take our engagement with policymakers in Brussels and across Europe extremely seriously.

“Amazon regularly participates in activities organised by the European Parliament and other EU institutions – including Parliamentary hearings – and we remain committed to participating in balanced, constructive dialogue on issues that affect European citizens,” they said. “We have repeatedly expressed our willingness to engage with members of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, and have on several occasions invited them to visit our facilities. That invitation still stands.”

Regarding the December 2023 warehouse visits, Amazon said the proposed dates in the Christmas period came during “retail peak season”, and that it had refused to participate in the January 2024 session because it was “clearly one-sided and not designed to encourage constructive debate”.

The firm added that its lobbyists would still be able to access European Parliament buildings, but that they would now need to be signed in like any other visitor.

Agrochemical giant Monsanto is the only other company to have had its lobbyists barred from entering European Parliament buildings, who were shut out in 2017 after it refused to attend a hearing about allegations of regulatory interference.

In September 2021, research showed that big tech had pulled ahead of pharmaceuticals, fossil fuels and finance to become the biggest lobby sector in Europe, spending more than €97m annually on lobbying.

The research found that despite a wide variety of active players, the tech sector’s lobbying efforts are dominated by just a handful of firms, with just 10 companies responsible for almost a third of the total tech lobby spend. This includes, in ascending order, Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Huawei, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google. They collectively spent more than €32m to get their voices heard in the European Union.

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