Public attention to Amazon has increased because of President Trump’s focus on the retail giant. Last week, Trump ordered a review of the finances at the U.S. Postal Service, which has package delivery agreements with Amazon. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also also owns The Washington Post, has been an inveterate critic of the president. While Trump has been criticized for looking into Amazon, there is ample historical precedent for challenging large business interests. Trump's critics charge that he is engaged in a political vendetta against Bezos.
Trump has said that the deal with Amazon is not profitable for USPS, while he has also said that Amazon should collect more sales tax. While Trump has been criticized by some for addressing the issue, there is precedent.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt sought to take on large business corporations. In 1901, he told Congress: “There is a widespread conviction in the minds of the American people that the great corporations known as the trusts are in certain of their features and tendencies hurtful to the general welfare.” Calling certain business practices “crimes of cunning,” the Republican Roosevelt began a more aggressive enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Taking on the Northern Securities Company -- which allied railroad executives with oilman John D. Rockefeller and capitalist JP Morgan -- Roosevelt told the attorney general to prosecute the holding company under the Sherman Act. After legal wrangling, Northern Securities was forced to dissolve after the Supreme Court sided with the government.
The Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt had success addressing the power of banks during the Depression. Targeting large banks in 1933, FDR declared that “A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor—other people's lives.”
Another Democrat, John F. Kennedy took on US Steel over its prices. “You have made a terrible mistake,” Kennedy told CEO Roger Blough in the early 1960s, Kennedy vowed to retaliate after concluding, “You have double-crossed me.” Kennedy announced that US Steel was engaged in “a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest.” Kennedy then ordered the Department of Defense to refrain from purchasing from US Steel and steer toward companies with better prices. He then called on the federal government to investigate US Steel for regulatory and tax irregularities.
Additional focus on Amazon came when workers at its warehouses in the United Kingdom are alleged to urinate in bottles at work because of fears of penalties should they take bathroom breaks. Investigator Jared Bloodworth, who claims to have worked undercover for the online retail giant for six months at a warehouse, told The Sun newspaper some workers were four flights of stairs away from toilets. Bloodworth said, “People just peed in bottles because they lived in fear of being disciplined over ‘idle time’ and losing their jobs just because they needed the [bathroom].”
In the huge Amazon warehouse, which the company calls fulfillment centers, workers walk approximately 10 miles on average each working day, according to Bloodworth. He claims that they take minimal rest during work shifts that last about 10 hours. Bloodworth said that in the warehouse where he worked, workers may taken 10 minutes to walk to the restrooms, a quarter mile away on the ground floor, thus compelling them to use a “toilet bottle.”
Amazon has denied the allegations. In a statement to Business Insider, the retailer said, “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one.”