Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is on the wrong cover of Indian magazine, Retail News, ET Retail

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is on the wrong cover of Indian magazine, Retail News, ET Retail


The second richest man in the world remembers almost daily how difficult it will be to win in the second most populous country. Unlike China, where the recent attack on the tech titans was waged with all the formal might of state power, the latest blow to Inc. in India came from unexpected and unofficial circles. .

President Jeff Bezos is on the cover of Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly he has probably never heard of. The article inside, provocatively titled “East India Company 2.0,” goes on to say that Amazon is threatening the economic freedom of small Indian traders, trying to hijack politics and politics and, via Prime Video, degrading the Hindu culture and promoting Western values ​​and values. Christianity.

There is nothing flattering to be compared to the 17th century British firm which came to trade with a rich and vast territory only to conquer and plunder it. But does stigma really mean much? Bezos and his empire have both faced stiff criticism around the world, for everything from low wages and poor working conditions in the retailer’s warehouses to its alleged anti-competitive practices. Speaking of unfavorable articles, Lina Khan has proven herself with her 2017 Yale Law Journal article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” and she is now chair of the United States Federal Trade Commission.

The reason for taking the disapproval of the Indian publication seriously is that Panchjanya, “the sound of righteousness”, is not another magazine. Founded by one of the leading figures of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, he is widely regarded as the spokesperson for the Hindu cultural organization that backs the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nurturing his party with ideological support. and mobilization of voters.

The timing of Amazon’s bad publicity couldn’t have been worse. The Morning Context media site recently reported that the Seattle-based e-commerce company was investigating a whistleblower complaint, which alleged that certain monies paid by the retailer had been turned into bribes by one or more of its legal representatives. in India. In its response to the news site’s questionnaire, Amazon said it has “zero tolerance” for corruption. He declined to confirm specific allegations or the status of any investigation.

What is the extent of this alleged corruption? Shortly after the Morning Context exclusivity, there was a flurry of other media reports, which cited anonymous sources to quantify what various Amazon entities had spent on legal fees in India in two years: $ 85.46 billion. rupees ($ 1.2 billion). The Confederation of All Indian Traders, which accuses the platform of harming small sellers, clung to the figure and wrote to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal – himself not a fan of e-commerce platforms – to About a “huge amount” spent on “manipulating the Indians”. government officials. “

Amazon said the number was a misleading representation. Amazon Seller Services Pvt., Which is the marketplace in India, paid 520 million rupees in legal fees in a year in which it incurred nearly 20 billion rupees in expenses for “legal and professional services. Which include everything from accounting to customer research. the costs of integrating traders and logistics services. It appears the $ 1.2 billion figure also included payments from Amazon India Ltd.

Either way, the e-commerce giant must investigate the whistleblower’s complaint. Based on the findings, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which enforces the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in conjunction with the Department of Justice, will need to determine whether the law has been broken. But Panchjanya expects none of this. In the Amazon, he found his colonizing raptor who had come to destroy India again. “Why does someone have to offer a bribe?” The article asks. “Only to do something wrong or to hide it.”

Online shopping is not even a tenth of India’s $ 800 billion retail trade. Yes, Amazon operates one of the two dominant digital markets and has valuable customer data. But nowhere is it as powerful or ubiquitous as the Chinese company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. A Prime Video series in India, produced by Indian writers and directors, can say whatever it wants against caste, misogyny or religious hatred. He will not move the needle during elections, which regularly use all kinds of prejudices to polarize voters.

So why is Amazon called up on the carpet? Simple answer: Diwali. The Indian holiday season is approaching and the pandemic is receding. People with stable jobs and incomes – members of a small middle class – want to breathe. And they want to buy. Destabilizing the US giant will now push more business to local offline retailers. New rules that will protect them – by banning e-commerce marketplaces from offering “significantly reduced prices” – are in the pipeline and face opposition within government.

The attacks don’t stop there. The September 5 issue of Panchjanya featured, in a similarly unflattering light, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of software company Infosys Ltd. level of unfounded accusations that have made many members of the country’s private sector nervous. “There are allegations that the management of Infosys is deliberately trying to destabilize the Indian economy,” he said. Interestingly, Murthy, now just a large shareholder of Infosys, owns, through his family office, three-quarters of Cloudtail, the biggest seller of products made by others on the Amazon website. in India. Amazon owns the rest. Facing close scrutiny from large resellers logged into the retail website, the partners agreed to dissolve the joint venture by next year. (Murthy has not commented publicly on the article, while the RSS has sought to distance itself by saying the magazine is not its spokesperson.)

Slanderous allegations are only part of the problem. As the Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message. The RSS, an all-male organization of small traders, builders and businessmen, can be a formidable enemy, especially in the current climate of strident economic nationalism in India.

Bezos’ partner ends up on the wrong magazine cover. Then he does it. That’s enough to turn Amazon’s headache in India, accumulated over more than five years, into a throbbing migraine.


Amanda P. Whitten

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