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Nithin Coca headshot

Amazon: No. 1 for Counterfeits, Cardboard Waste and More

By Nithin Coca

That cheap deal from Amazon may not be what it seems, as some say the e-commerce giant allows counterfeiters free reign on its marketplace. Add that to the existing labor, environmental and sustainability issues the company has mostly ignored, and the clear choice for ethical consumers may be to just shop elsewhere.

This comes from a CNBC report alleging that Amazon's Marketplace – which accounts for a huge percentage of the retailer's sales – is a haven for counterfeit products. Most of these products, CNBC reported, are sold directly by Chinese companies Amazon has actually courted for some time as it aims to grow into a dominant, unstoppable retail force.

"In Amazon's quest to be the low-cost provider of everything on the planet, the website has morphed into the world's largest flea market — a chaotic, somewhat lawless, bazaar with unlimited inventory," senior tech reporter Ari Levy wrote on CNBC.

"Always a problem, the counterfeiting issue has exploded this year, sellers say, following Amazon's effort to openly court Chinese manufacturers, weaving them intimately into the company's expansive logistics operation. Merchants are perpetually unsure of who or what may kill their sales on any given day and how much time they'll have to spend hunting down fakers."

Amazon is not the first retailer to keep prices low by utilizing cheap labor and Chinese-made goods. It's the same formula Walmart used to become the country's largest brick-and-mortar retailer. At one time, Walmart was the eighth largest trading partner with China, and its shift to Chinese goods was key in devastating American factories and their workers.

Moreover, not surprisingly, Walmart's massive stores heavily impacted the ability of small businesses to survive, particularly in suburbs and smaller towns, as they just could not compete on costs. Walmart built its profits upon its relationship with Chinese manufacturers, a formula duplicated by many other American companies, such as Apple, which manufactures nearly all of its products in China.

Amazon is, essentially, a digital Walmart that undercuts competition through low prices, fueled by low-wage costs in its warehouses (where workers have actually died from the high pace requirements) and, now, a focus on quantity – more and more sales – rather than quality. Amazon enables counterfeiting by making it difficult for consumers to know which products are being bought directly from Amazon, and which are from other retailers utilizing the marketplace. The company also doesn't vet marketplace vendors, and is slow to respond to legitimate vendors' complaints about counterfeit goods. Even the fact that a counterfeit product is fulfilled by Amazon doesn't matter, as Chinese producers ship freight directly to Amazon's American warehouses to then be sent to consumers.

As we know quite well here at TriplePundit, corporate culture matters. With these shady business practices, it should come as no surprise that Amazon is lagging far behind its fellow tech peers on sustainability too. It only recently hired its first sustainability director who, so far, seems to have done little. The company has yet to release even one comprehensive, industry-standard sustainability report.

And in fact Amazon's services, such as Prime, which gives consumers unlimited free shipping, are creating mountains of cardboard waste. The company prefers to let municipalities deal with those externalities as it pushes even more delivery services upon us, including one-hour delivery in a growing number of U.S. cities.

The truth is: The social and environmental cost of Amazon's growth is huge. The products you buy might be a fake -- and made in a factory that uses illegal or child labor -- and Amazon has a massive carbon footprint that it is doing little to address.

The next time you consider buying a product from Amazon, think twice. Is it really worth what you save? In the end, you might not even know what you're really getting.

Image credit: Simon via Pixabay

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Read more stories by Nithin Coca