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Amazon threatens to fire employees who speak out on climate change

CNBC logo CNBC 2020-01-02 Annie Palmer
(Video by Bloomberg)
  • The company warned two employees that they could be terminated if they continue to speak out publicly about the business.
  • An Amazon spokesperson said employees are "encouraged to work within their teams" and can suggest "improvements to how we operate through those internal channels."

A group of Amazon employees say the company has threatened to fire them for speaking out against the company's environmental policies.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said that several employees were contacted by legal and HR representatives, who said they were in violation of the company's external communications policy. 

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 2:  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attends a commemoration ceremony held in front of Saudi consulate on the first anniversary of his murder, in Istanbul, Turkey on October 02, 2019.   (Photo by Elif Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) © 2019 Anadolu Agency ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 2: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attends a commemoration ceremony held in front of Saudi consulate on the first anniversary of his murder, in Istanbul, Turkey on October 02, 2019. (Photo by Elif Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Maren Costa, a user experience experience designer, was one of the employees Amazon threatened to fire. In the statement, Costa said: "This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out."

Two employees were told their roles would be terminated if they continued to speak out about Amazon's business, a spokesperson for the group told CNBC.

Amazon also threatened to terminate Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news on Thursday. Kowalski and Costa said they received letters from one of Amazon's lawyers after speaking out publicly in October, the Post reported.

This picture shows the logo of US online retail giant Amazon at the distribution center in Moenchengladbach, western Germany, on December 17, 2019. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images) This picture shows the logo of US online retail giant Amazon at the distribution center in Moenchengladbach, western Germany, on December 17, 2019. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images) In the statement, the employee group claimed that Amazon changed its policy in September, claiming that the updated policy "requires employees to seek prior approval to speak about Amazon in any public forum while identified as an employee."

However, Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company's communications policy isn't new. In September, Amazon actually tried to make it easier for employees to speak out by adding a form on an internal web site where employees could seek approval; prior to that, they had to get direct approval from a senior vice president. She added that employees are "encouraged to work within their teams" and can suggest "improvements to how we operate through those internal channels."

Amazon employees have increasingly pressured the company to address its environmental impact. At Amazon's annual shareholder meeting in May, thousands of employees submitted a proposal asking Bezos to develop a comprehensive climate-change plan and reduce its carbon footprint, though it was ultimately rejected. The proposal was built on an employee letter published in April that accused Amazon of donating to climate-delaying legislators and urged the company to transition away from fossil fuels.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces  the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon) © 2019 Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon) In September, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company aims to rely on renewable energy entirely by 2030 and have net zero carbon emissions by 2040. The plans were largely viewed as a response to employees' demands.

The day after Bezos' announcement, more than 1,000 employees walked out as part of the Global Climate Strike and to protest Amazon's climate policies. 

Gallery: The 13 gadgets that had the biggest impact this decade (Business Insider)

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