Amazon Warehouses: Perfecting The American Plantation

Alex Mell-Taylor
15 min readDec 13, 2019

From picking cotton to stacking boxes.

When I first rolled into the West Entrance of Amazon’s Baltimore Fulfilment Center, my Lyft driver said, laughing, that I was “going to see the slaves work.”

I was there to take a tour. The company was engaged in a PR blitz in the wake of reports of employees pissing in bottles and onsite deaths. I was guided through the vast warehouse that stretched on for miles.

I didn’t come across any outward abuse — the tour was far too scripted for that — but the sights I saw there still haunt me. As I stood back and watched employees picking boxes off an endless conveyer belt, I couldn’t stop thinking about that comment.

It really did look a lot like slavery.

The Exploitative Rise Of Amazon

Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos on July 5, 1994, as an online marketplace for books. It was originally filed under the name Cadabra, Inc. (as in, the magician’s phrase “abracadabra”). This name was allegedly tossed because it sounded too close to the word cadaver.

Jeff Bezos settled on the name Amazon both because websites at the time were listed alphabetically (see Apple vs. Altari), but also because he liked the metaphorical image of naming his company after the…