Amazon is investigating its own employees for taking money through intermediaries to help sellers. Sellers report being offered and receiving confidential data, such as search key words, to help boost sales on the site.
The trouble seems most serious among Chinese Amazon employees, who work for lower salaries and may have more incentive to supplement their wages. A Wall Street Journal article describes the process:
Brokers search for Amazon employees on Chinese messaging platform WeChat and send messages asking them if they would like to provide these services in exchange for cash, according to brokers and sellers who say they have been approached by brokers.
The going rate for having an Amazon employee delete negative reviews is about $300 per review, according to people familiar with the practice. Brokers usually demand a five-review minimum, meaning that sellers typically must pay at least $1,500 for the service.
An Amazon spokesperson defended the company’s practices: “We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties,” and “We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems, and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.”
With more than two million independent sellers on the site, competition can be fierce. Sellers have been known to encourage fake reviews and repeated clicks for higher rankings.
Which principles of ethical decision making come into play in this situation? In other words, how do we know that the employees’ behavior is unethical?
We might say that Amazon employees in China are underpaid, and that’s why they are taking money on the side. Does this justify their behavior? Why or why not?