CC War on Want

Amazon's lobbying satellites orbit EU policy-makers

From workers' rights to data protection, environmental impact and abuses of dominance, the growing reach of Amazon is facing backlash. In response, the digital giant is ramping up its lobbying power in the EU and member states, via lobby firms, think tanks, academia, economics consultancies, and public relations campaigns, research from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), LobbyControl and SOMO shows.

Amazon is one of the world’s biggest and most powerful companies, worth over US$1.49 trillion, and one of the world’s biggest employers.

Amazon is first and foremost known as an online shop, yet, that is just half of the story. Its business is made up of a series of different services ranging from the classic online retail, to logistics services for other sellers (Fulfilment by Amazon), connected devices including the personal assistant Alexa, social media and video streaming via Twitch and Amazon Prime Video, cloud storage and software as a service (SaaS) via Amazon Web Services, a digital advertising platform, and satellite-based global broadband provider via Kuiper, set to involve 3,236 satellites in low orbit around the earth.

Amazon’s operations in the EU have been incredibly lucrative for the company, but their ever-increasing monopoly power, treatment of workers, mis-handling of data, and many other practices have also attracted growing criticism from workers, environmentalists, competition, and data protection authorities.

Amazon’s power in Europe is increasingly felt by small businesses, shoppers, workers and communities at large who are being negatively impacted and are demanding policy-makers take action. Not surprisingly, the company has responded by increasing its EU and national level lobbying.

By looking at the company’s lobby declarations at EU level we have found that:

  • Since 2020 the company has substantially increased its EU lobbying budget, peaking in 2021 at €3 million. The spending diminished slightly in 2022 but Amazon is still in the top 14 biggest lobby spenders for a single company.

  • At the same time, Amazon has also expanded its lobbying at the national level. In Germany and France – its two biggest EU markets – the company spent a combined €3.6 million in 2022. This is higher than its declared spending at EU level, indicating the company prioritises national level lobbying.

  • In the past two years, Amazon has vastly increased the number of lobby firms working on its behalf. In 2022 it disclosed 13 lobby firms, accounting for a remarkable 77 per cent of its total lobbying budget.

  • The issues the company lobbies on reflect the vast sprawl of its business activities: from digital policy, such as data protections, online safety and limits to digital advertising; the sustainability policies of the European Green Deal; employment; and corporate accountability.

  • Since 2021 Amazon also ramped up its network of third party organisations: it now declares funding over 60 business associations, 15 think-tanks and forums, and 1 NGO. Still, disclosure is not complete as Amazon hasn't declared two additional think tanks it is funding.

  • To influence EU competition and merger decisions, Amazon is a client of key economic consultancies such as Charles River Associations and Compass Lexecon. Amazon also funds one of the most important competition schools in Europe, the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

Comparatively, Amazon has invested a lot more into Washington DC lobbying, where it is currently the biggest single corporate spender. In Brussels, its lobbying is still overshadowed by far bigger spenders Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Still, we can see that the company has been slowly building up its capacity in Europe.

The company is also increasingly visible as it invests more on its branding, and on countering negative perceptions. In France it launched a public relations plan named “Ratatouille” to improve the image of the company and the impact of its operations. In Germany and Austria, Amazon ran an advert on TV in 2022 worth €19 million, in which the company portrayed itself as sustainable and a good employer.

Awareness of the problems created by the company's power is increasing. We expect that Amazon will keep ramping up its lobbying to prevent that such scrutiny turns into political and regulatory action.

Asked for a reaction to our findings, an Amazon spokesperson stated that Amazon “advocate[s] on a range of issues that are important to our customers, sellers, and the diverse range of businesses we operate. We work with organisations like trade associations and think tanks, and communicate with officials at the European Institutions. We regularly update our entry in the EU Transparency Register in line with the guidelines.”  Sidenote The full statement reads: “Since 2010, Amazon has invested more than €150 billion across the European Union, and now employ more than 150,000 employees to serve our customers and support the 275,000 small businesses selling on Amazon in Europe. We advocate on a range of issues that are important to our customers, sellers, and the diverse range of businesses we operate. This means we work with organisations like trade associations and think tanks, and communicate with officials at the European Institutions. We regularly update our entry in the EU Transparency Register in line with the guidelines. Sidenote

Amazon is a household name

Amazon’s presence in the EU has been growing for 25 years, since it opened its first international shop in Germany. Since then the company has expanded across the continent, setting up a complex network of logistics, data centres, and corporate offices (see Figure 1).

Amazon's footpring in Europe

Now, according to the company’s EU Store Transparency report, its online stores record an estimated 181 million average monthly users across the EU. That is equivalent to 40 per cent of the population in the union. By comparison, its nearest competitor eBay, doesn't even reach the 45 million users threshold.

Amazon’s wide variety of services and products can, at times, obfuscate how the company actually generates money. By analysing the annual accounts of Amazon European subsidiaries registered in Luxembourg, and identifying gaps in the income, we can start mapping the main sources of income for the company in Europe (see Figure 2).

Amazon's European income sources

Retail sales, where Amazon is the seller of note, are still the main revenue stream for the company. However, this is complemented by the fees that it charges independent sellers to be able to use its platform, plus extra services such as storage and delivery, and support services.

To this one can still add Amazon’s growing advertising revenue, at least half of which is derived from pushing those same sellers into paying extra to be able to remain visible on the platform, according to SOMO's estimates.

At the same time, the company has steadily expanded its cloud business, Amazon Web Services. This company branch provides services such as storage, software and, more recently, AI products to other companies and public bodies.

While incredibly lucrative, Amazon’s sprawling business model relies on a series of practices that have come under criticism and started to become the target of regulation. For instance, its marketplace has been investigated, fined, and sued in several jurisdictions due to abuses of market power and illegally maintaining monopoly power; workers in Germany and Italy have taken collective action over labour conditions and low pay; its data collection and processing practices have also come under fire for breaching EU data protection laws; and, local communities and workers have questioned the sustainability impact of the company’s operations, from the environmental impact of its logistics centres, to the company’s carbon footprint.

At the same time, the EU has been mulling over a set of new rules on platform governance, tax policy, corporate accountability, and climate change which could have an impact on the way that Amazon makes money and maintains its monopoly power.

Amazon, a lobbying powerhouse

Like its EU footprint, Amazon’s lobbying firepower is massive and has only increased over the past few years. According to numbers from, the company’s lobby spending increased rapidly from €1,875,000 in 2019 to €3,000,000 in 2021, possibly in anticipation of a strong focus on digital and green rule-making by the new European Commission.

Amazon lobby spending

While Amazon has decreased its spending slightly to €2,750,000 in 2022, it still is the 14th highest spender among companies in Europe. Since 2013 the company has spent at least €18.8 million lobbying the European institutions.

Lobbying budgets are self-declared, and we do not know exactly what the company spent this money on but, at the very least it should include its own in-house lobbyists, including the expenses of its EU Quarter office, the events it puts together for policy-makers, and the network of third parties that it funds or hires.

Amazon subsidiaries and associate companies lobbying the EU

Amazon is a massive company owning hundreds of subsidiaries, with major stakes in many others. Several of these companies deploy lobbying activities in their own right.

Twitch, a live-streaming platform which was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for almost US$1 billion, lobbied the EU for at least €25,000 in 2022. It’s registration in the EU Transparency Register shows that the company lobbied on the Digital Services Act (DSA), the ongoing negotiations on the Child Sexual Abuse regulation, and the Code of Practice on Disinformation.

Twilio is a company which supports text-messaging, but also cloud-based communications such as voice calls, messages, and video. Amazon is a major investor in the company owning 18.4 per cent of its shares. Twilio has a substantial lobbying presence in the EU with a budget of at least €300,000 in 2022. The company has had several meetings with high-level EU officials on the AI Act, the Data Act, and EU-US data transfers.

Amazon is also the largest shareholder in the delivery platform Deliveroo, with 12.39 per cent. Amazon’s investment was subject to a year-long investigation by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which was critical of the acquisition given the already "highly concentrated” sector.

Deliveroo, with an annual lobbying budget of at least €100,000, has together with other gig platforms fiercely resisted attempts by the EU to better protect the rights of platform workers.

Amazon lobbying the capitals

Amazon’s lobbying of the EU is however only the tip of the iceberg. Amazon has become the dominant e-commerce company in Europe’s biggest markets including Germany, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain. Due to a lack of transparency rules in many EU countries, it is difficult to scope the extent of Amazon’s lobbying and the resources spent at national level. What is clear is that together with its market power across Europe, Amazon’s national lobbying has grown too.

In Germany, Amazon and its subsidiaries (AWS and Twitch) spent more than €2,400,000 in 2022. Amazon is thus among the top 3 per cent of lobby spenders in Germany, by far outspending ecommerce competitors like Ceconomy, Otto, and Zalando.

On Amazon’s behalf, a number of lobby associations also represent the companies interests towards policymakers: SUB Erste Lesung, 365 Sherpas, BCW, ALP und FGS Global.

Also, in Germany Amazon makes use of a widespread lobby network. In total, the company is a member of 39 associations, networks and initiatives, among them the biggest German digital industry association Bitkom, Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW). Amazon is also a member of three business associations close to political parties:

  • Wirtschaftsrat der CDU (conservative party)
  • Wirtschaftsforum der SPD (social democrats)
  • Grüner Wirschaftsdialog (Greens)

These associations provide privileged access to business in events for industry and LobbyControl has criticised their role in increasing corporate influence on the policy process.

In France, Amazon and Amazon Web Services (AWS) spent at least €1.2 million on lobbying in 2022, a major 1100 per cent increase from 2017, when it first started disclosing the figures. Together Amazon and AWS employ 14 people lobbying on a range of issues from artificial intelligence and facial recognition, taxation, copyright, and European legislation.

In 2022 alone, the company had 21 meetings with French government officials, more than French industrial giants such as Total (17 meetings), Renault (3), or the defence company Thales (6).

While numbers on lobby spending are not included in the Irish lobby register, it does keep track of meetings. There are three Amazon entities registered: Amazon Web Services disclosed 56 lobbying activities towards Irish policy-makers; Amazon Ireland logged another 13; and, Amazon UK Services listed another 22 lobbying activities towards Irish lawmakers. The company lobbied the Irish government on EU digital policy files and, most of all, on the further expansion of data centres in the country. Ireland is a major data centre hub with an estimated 82 in operation. And although the Irish power grid has come under immense pressure with 18 percent of the total electricity demand coming from these centres, and despite public pressure, Amazon recently announced that it will build three additional centres.

Some of the national level lobbying we see happening in Germany, France and Ireland will naturally focus on national level policy. Yet we have also seen the company lobbying in EU capitals to influence the government’s position in Council. This was, for instance, the case during negotiations for the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act where Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobbycontrol documented instances of Amazon lobbying in Sweden and Estonia.

The golden goose of the lobby industry

Amazon doesn’t only lobby the EU institutions itself. It is increasingly making use of lobby consultancies firms to lobby on its behalf.

According to data from, in 2021 Amazon was a client of ten lobby firms spending €1,360,000. Just one year later though, it has steeply increased its spending to €2,120,000, going up to thirteen firms working on its behalf. Aside from Apple, no other Big Tech giant spends as much on lobby agencies as Amazon: in 2022 it spent a stunning 77 per cent of its total lobbying budget on PR firms, up from 45 percent in 2021.

While the amount of spending by Amazon on PR firms is not yet available for 2023, data does show that the number of lobbying firms it employs has further increased to 14.

Of the lobby firms that Amazon declares hiring, two are not registered in the EU Transparency Register: Leading Edge Global Communications, and Telage (more on this below).

The lobby firms that declare having worked for Amazon in the closed financial year, registered 69 lobbying topics. Some policy issues were worked on by various lobby consultancies. Amazon hired 4 different lobby firms to work on General Product Safety Regulation (GPSR) (Concilius AG, FTI Consulting, Hanbury, Kreab), for instance.

What is Amazon lobbying the EU on?

Data on meetings with high-level EU officials shows that Amazon is lobbying on a wide range of issues that directly affect its business model. This includes topics such as corporate accountability, the European Green Deal, digital policies, employment and more. It is clear that Amazon's lobbying is as vast as its business.

Digital policies are one of the prime targets of Amazon lobbying. The company has lobbied the EU extensively on the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, data protection, and artificial intelligence.

The company has resisted some of these regulations fiercely. Amazon was the first company to challenge in court its designation as a Very Large Online Platform (VLOP) under the Digital Services Act. In particular, the company is pushing back against having to provide advertising transparency and allowing users to opt-out of profiling. Amazon has also played a role in derailing the ePrivacy Directive and lobbied against a ban on surveillance ads. This is not a surprise, as the company’s advertising unit is one of its fastest-growing businesses.

Perhaps less scrutinized is Amazon’s intense lobbying of the European Green Deal. Out of 46 meetings during the Von der Leyen Commission, thirteen were on different aspects of the Green Deal from packaging to the circular economy. Amazon has come under fire for its use of non-recyclable packagingaccording to activist shareholders it is one of the largest corporate users of flexible plastic packaging -, its massive destruction of returned parcels and unsold stock, and its huge carbon footprint. Although Amazon had previously pledged to reduce its environmental impact, it has since backtracked on some of its promises.

While less prominent than digital and green policy, Amazon has also lobbied the EU’s Employment department (4 encounters). There the company discussed platform work and social dialogue between employers and trade unions. A freedom of information request filed by Global Witness shows the company used a meeting with Employment Commissioner Schmidt to pushback against criticism of its working conditions.

For some of these firms, Amazon has become their largest client.

Amazon is the largest client of Fleishman-Hillard. This is especially significant as no other company, consultancy firm, or business association has a lobbying budget in the EU as large as that of Fleishman-Hillard. The consultancy lobbied on behalf of Amazon on a wide range of topics including the Digital Markets Act, the Renewable Energy Directive, sustainable finance, and corporate due diligence.

FTI Consulting, the second largest EU consulting firm in terms of spending, is another prominent lobbying firm which counts Amazon as a major client. In the United States their relationship in 2022 came under critical scrutiny after emails showed that Amazon urged FTI to instrumentalize communities of colour to push back against legislation which would curb Amazon’s monopoly power.

Amazon also makes use of several smaller PR firms with limited budgets. The company reports spending less than €10,000 on Leading Edge Global Communications, a firm of two employees, one of which is former British MEP Daniel Dalton who had worked on several EU tech files including blockchain, artificial intelligence, and consumer protection. Dalton currently serves as a member of the UK Regulatory Policy Committee, a UK government body which “assesses the quality of evidence and analysis used to inform government regulatory proposals”. He is also a Senior Advisor at Allied for Startups (see below), a business association which has come under critical scrutiny for receiving sponsorship from Big Tech including Amazon and for taking lobbying positions in line with those sponsors.

A spiders’ web of business associations and front groups

Amazon’s lobbying power is also amplified by its membership of over 60 business associations and industry coalitions, as recorded in the EU Transparency Register.

Several of these associations are lobbying powerhouses on their own. DigitalEurope for example had a lobbying budget of €1,750,000 in 2021 and 186 meetings with high-level EU officials.

In some cases, Amazon is not just a member but sets out the lines of these associations. Amazon’s Director for Public Policy Daniel O’Connor for example sits on the Board of Directors of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). CCIA has played a key role in pushing back against any legislative initiatives aimed at curbing the harms of Big Tech giants. During the negotiations on the Digital Services Act both Amazon and CCIA placed advertisements on Twitter to push back against any curbs on surveillance ads. CCIA also lobbied against imposing safety obligations on developers of AI systems (i.e. mostly Big Tech companies) in the Artificial Intelligence Act.

In 2020, leaked lobbying memos from Amazon seen by Politico Europe showed just how important such business associations were for the company. Amazon reportedly boasted of its success weakening the Parliament’s position on the ePrivacy Directive, an update of protection of metadata. The memo described the company’s strategy which included “channelling its positions through a range of different lobby groups including tech groups CCIA and DigitalEurope, as well as marketing group FEDMA.”

First proposed in 2017, the EU Institutions have still not been able to finish the ePrivacy file, at least in part due to opposition from corporate lobbying.

There is increasing critical scrutiny of some of the associations funded by Big Tech, especially those that ostensibly represent small or medium sized businesses, but are heavily dependent on Big Tech funding and parrot the same policy positions as their Big Tech funders. In 2022 three social-democratic MEPs filed complaints against several organisations for misleading lawmakers.

Amazon now sponsors ACT – the App Association, SME Connect, and Allied for Startups. All three have received critical scrutiny. ACT, for example, receives more than half of its funding from Apple and has been accused by four former employees of lobbying on behalf of Apple even when contrary to the interests of app developers. At EU level, Act has, for instance, pushed back against provisions in the Digital Markets Act (DMA) aimed at reining in Apple’s market power.

ACT started listing Amazon as a sponsor in July 2023.

Amazon increased its funding of think-tanks

In the last two years Amazon has also drastically increased the network of think tanks it funds. In 2021, when analysing Big Tech’s lobby network, we saw that Amazon had comparatively few connections. Whereas Google, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft all had extensive relationships with think tanks, Amazon had only collaborated with two of them, European Policy Centre (EPC), and Centre on Regulation in Europe (CERRE).

Today, Amazon is affiliated to 15 think tanks at the EU level, among them leading Brussels-based think tanks like Bruegel. It also supports one NGO, the Centre for Democracy and Technology. That does not stop the NGO however from critically reporting on Amazon, for instance on workplace surveillance in Amazon logistic centres.

Amazon's think tank funding

Unfortunately, Amazon does not disclose all of these relationships. The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), and Centre for European Reform (CER) are not mentioned in Amazon’s transparency register profile, yet both think tanks disclose their relationship to Amazon on their website.

Big Tech funding of think tanks

In-house lobbying

With 110 meetings with high-level EU officials, Amazon is a regular visitor at the Berlaymont building. Since the start of the Von der Leyen Commission, the company has had 46 meetings, including 19 with European Commissioners.

According to the meeting logs, the company targeted a wide variety of Commission departments. The most frequent target DG Justice (6 encounters) to discuss product safety and data protection; followed by DG Environment (4 encounters) to discuss European Green Deal proposals; Internal Market (4 encounters) to cover platform regulation, especially the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act; DG Employments (4 encounters) to discuss platform work and social dialogue; and DG Mobility and Transport (4 encounters).

But it is not only the Commission which has had its fair share of Amazon lobbyists knocking on its doors. According to data from ParlTrack, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have had 106 meetings with representatives from Amazon, mostly with MEPs from Renew (32), S&D (28) and EPP (24).

This is only a fraction of the access Amazon has to the EU’s institutions. The Commission only keeps track of the top 300 European Commission’s officials. Similarly, transparency about lobby meetings is notorious for being extremely patchy with only just over half of MEPs reporting their meetings. Additionally, only MEPs who have a specific legislative role such as rapporteurs and chairs are required to report them. Advisors to political parties and assistants are excluded from this data.

These omissions are all the more problematic because some of Amazon’s lobbying is explicitly targeted at parliamentary assistants. In November 2022 for example Amazon organized an informal networking event specifically targeted at European parliamentary assistants serving free food and cocktails. The invitation to the event, sent to Corporate Europe Observatory by an MEP's office, announced that it would be “an opportunity to network and meet with the Amazon public policy teams”.

Economic consultants to the rescue

Amazon has become infamous for its monopoly power: It has been accused of using that power to squeeze third-party sellers on its marketplace, using killer acquisitions to shore up its market position or enter new markets and using predatory pricing to undercut competitors. This power is increasingly under attack. New mergers such as in the case of the iRobot merger are closely being monitored by lawmakers and civil society. And in September 2023 the US government sued Amazon in a landmark case for illegally maintaining its monopoly position.

This is where economic consultancy firms come in. These are specialised firms which provide favourable economic arguments to legitimise mergers to regulators, 'prove' they are not harming consumers, or that the company’s behaviour is not abusive. While often perceived as ‘neutral intermediaries’, economic consultancies in reality have a major stake in shaping the EU’s merger policies and have used questionable methods to push through mergers. Amazon makes extensive use of these consultancies.

Charles River Associates International (CRAI) has long commercial links with Amazon. The firm has represented Amazon in the Deliveroo investment (see above). CRAI’s services have gone further than just representing Amazon in mergers and antitrust cases.

It has also tried to shape the public and academic debate about Amazon’s monopoly power. For example, Amazon funded a paper written by a consultant of CRAI and an academic from the University of Toronto in which the authors argue against the EU and Italian investigations into Amazon’s abuses towards the third-party sellers on its platform. The authors state that they want to “include Amazon’s perspective” in the public debate.

During the same investigation Amazon was also advised by Compass Lexecon. The case was eventually settled at the end of 2022, once Amazon offered a series of changes to its marketplace. Civil society organisations, including SOMO and Balanced Economy Project, criticized the deal for being “rife with loopholes”.

Compass Lexecon on the other hand won the award for Behavioural Matter of the Year 2022 - Europe by Global Competition Review for its undoubtedly profitable advice. The team involved in the case included 20 people.

Funding universities

Amazon however isn’t just a client of economic consultancies. Along with other Big Tech giants Amazon funds competition economics faculties at various universities which are renowned for filling the ranks of competition authorities and economic consultancies alike. In this way it is able to steer research and make use of the extensive policy networks of these universities.

The Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) is for example one of the most prestigious competition schools in Europe. It also receives generous private donations. According to its annual report, its six thematic departments receive €4,609,000 in funding of which €3,852,000 in private funding. Its Digital Centre is the best funded thematic centre (with a budget of approximately €1,6 million) with partnerships from several corporate sponsors including Amazon, Meta and Microsoft. According to TSE’s website, this funding “enables partners to build a privileged relationship with a team of researchers”.

This funding also offers unique lobbying and networking opportunities. In May 2022 TSE for example set up a Common Good Summit aimed at networking with partners. Besides “industry leaders” from Amazon, AXA and BNP Paribas, there was EU Commissioner Vestager. Corporate partners had the opportunity to join the speakers at a private cocktail party at the end of the first day of the summit.

TSE is not the only school with a programme in competition economics receiving funding from Amazon. Also the Florence Competition Programme, which is part of the European University Institute, counts Amazon as one of its major donors. Being a major donor gives extensive benefits. According to the school’s website, donors can participate in the programme’s advisory council which “sets the agenda of the policy events, training and research activities” and gives “preferential considerations for speaking roles at all policy events”.

Amazon’s image campaign

As mentioned above, Amazon has been criticised and under pressure for years due to poor working conditions at its logistic centres. Unlike other companies, Amazon has so far refused to secure collective bargaining for all its workers. Research by the journalist network Correctiv once again showed how bad the conditions at Amazon really are: work is monitored around the clock, there is a lot of time pressure, and hardly any time for breaks and rest.

Amazon reacted to this with a multi-million-euro public relations campaign. In France, for instance, the company has launched Operation ‘Ratatouille’, named after the Disney movie, to improve its public image. According to Bloomberg, this operation would include a series of TV ads, promotion of French products and commissioning of studies to show the positive impact of the company.

The expenses for such public relations campaigns go far beyond what the tech company spends on direct lobbying. According to Lobbycontrol’s research, Amazon ran print ads worth €8.1 million (gross advertising costs) in 2021 to improve its image. It invested even more into TV ads in 2022. For example, Amazon ran an advert on TV in Germany and Austria in 2022 worth €19 million that tells the story of a happy Amazon employee working on renewable energy for Amazon logistic centres.

The spending figures are based on surveys conducted by AdVision digital, a service provider for advertising market analyses. The figures refer to gross media costs and not the actual amount Amazon has spent. It doesn’t, for instance, consider the discounted rate the firm is likely to have negotiated (we can only speculate as to how high that might be) nor the fact that companies generally use external service providers to create such ad campaigns and that they, too, need paying.

Moreover, these costs are just one part of the firm’s expenditure on these publicity campaigns, which also include online advertising, particularly on social media apps. The ads are being run in other European countries too. Amazon’s total spend on image campaigns across Europe is therefore likely to be considerably higher

Public relations expenses are not recorded in the Transparency Register. The expenses show that Amazon’s influence campaign goes beyond its classic advocacy work. Amazon's calculation is clear with these campaigns: with a positive image and approval from the public makes it easier to lobby politicians in favour of its own interests. The aim is to convince politicians and the public that there is no need for action. Such campaigns can therefore be seen as part of the company's overall influencing strategy.

Amazon ad in a metro station close to the EU quarter in Brussels

Amazon worries about its image

Like most of the big digital platforms, Amazon does not have its headquarters in the EU. It is based in Seattle in the United States and has closer ties to the US government. In Europe, on the other hand, Big Tech companies have gone from being bold outsiders to household names, working hard to build up relationships with member state governments and EU institutions.

Yet, the business model of large digital platforms like Amazon is often based on pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable and legal. Amazon’s reputation is being threatened by criticism and mobilisations against its controversial working conditions, impact on the environment and climate, and abuses of market power. Therefore, Amazon appears urgently aware of the need for shoring up a good public image. If not, the company knows that regulation might follow.

Lobbying, building a network of third parties that echo its message and promoting a more positive brand via public relations campaigns are then a key part of the company’s strategy to protect its power. We expect that in the coming years, Amazon will continue ramping up its EU and national level lobbying.

It is up to policy-makers, media, workers and activists to see through this strategy and continue holding the company accountable.

This mix of market and lobby power can be toxic for the democratic process. We urge EU and national level policy-makers and regulators to:

  • Implement safeguards for the democratic process such as better transparency rules and code of conducts;

  • Actively challenge the influence of well-resourced lobbyists and proactively seek under-resources civil society actors, such as unions, small businesses and environmental organisations;

  • Fight excessive market power concentration. Lobbying power flows from the excessive resources created by monopoly power. To adequately balance the democratic process, the policy-makers need to tackle market power. That will require upgrading and improving the enforcement of the EU’s antitrust rules;

  • Whereas the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is a great step forward to challenge market power abuses, more needs to be done to fix Amazon’s power, including using structural remedies such as break-ups and merger control to prevent further power consolidation.

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