Amazon Aptly Handles Leaked-Memo Crisis

Thom Weidlich 12.21.23


Having your company’s internal documents leak to the public or press is a particular brand of crisis. Amazon recently experienced such an incident and handled it fairly well by not being evasive or (overly) defensive.

The document in question is a sprawling, eight-page strategy memo on the retail giant’s community-outreach efforts in Southern California. It lays out current strategies and future plans, including regarding legislation. Of particular concern, given Amazon’s business, are labor issues and a state-assembly bill that would restrict warehouse development.

The memo, entitled “Community Engagement Plan 2024 — Southern California,” was first disclosed to the public on Dec. 5 when Gonzalez Fletcher, the executive secretary-treasurer for the California Labor Federation, posted it to X, formerly Twitter, according to Co-Star News, which covers commercial real estate. The Warehouse Worker Resource Center also posted it.

Press Coverage

As you can imagine, the leak got press coverage, with several outlets picking up the AP story. Amazon took the high road and, instead of ducking the issue, verified the document’s authenticity and defended it.

“Partnerships with community leaders and stakeholders help guide how Amazon gives back,” Amazon spokesperson Jennifer Flagg emailed to media outlets. “Through employee volunteerism or our charitable donations, it is always Amazon’s intention to help support the communities where we work in a way that is most responsive to the needs of that community.”

Activist groups and others responded to the memo with outrage. Amazon is doing what many companies (and activist groups) do: trying to exert influence (“There are currently not enough Amazonians serving on prominent boards in Southern California,” the anonymous writer states in the memo).

Philanthropy Focus

The focus on philanthropy in Amazon’s response was a good (maybe obvious) choice, though it could have been more forceful — even in the memo. For example, here’s a sentence from it quoted in the press: “Amazon also faces significant reputational challenges in Southern California, where the company is perceived to build facilities in predominantly communities of color and poverty, negatively impacting their health.”

Are the perceptions accurate? Does Amazon do that? The memo writer doesn’t defend the company’s efforts. It may seem unnecessary for an internal audience. On the other hand, it may make sense for companies to try to defend themselves, even in internal documents. Who knows? They may leak.

‘Valid Concerns’

We did find one instance of a more-forceful Amazon defense.

In a Dec. 5 press release, Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, said the memo “details a strategy to paper over these valid concerns” about low pay, work conditions and worker safety “with donations, media clippings and support for policy changes that either benefit Amazon or hurt their competitors.”

In his report, Jeff Horseman of The Press-Enterprise quoted an unnamed Amazon spokesperson calling that description of the memo “a blatant mischaracterization of Amazon’s work, and in fact, Amazon is proud to be engaged philanthropically in communities across the country.”

Photo Credit: Amazon

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