Criticism of working conditions at Blue Origin: Abuses in the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ group

• An essay by employees and ex-employees highlights abuses at Blue Origin
• Reports of sexism and discrimination
• Pressure from management level should lead to security deficiencies

Jeff Bezos after leaving Amazon: more time for Blue Origin

After 27 years at the top, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced his resignation as CEO at the beginning of the year. Although the entrepreneur retains the position of Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors, Andy Jassy, ​​who has been with the company since 1997 and headed the cloud division Amazon Web Services (AWS) before his CEO position, has been in charge of the Mail order company. For Bezos himself, the withdrawal from the company management does not mean more free time: Instead, the businessman wants to devote himself to his numerous other projects, above all the space company Blue Origin, which he called the most important job of his life.

“Overwhelming feeling of discomfort”: essay points out grievances

Now, however, criticism of the rocket builder is growing. As Alexandra Abrams, former head of employee communications at Blue Origin, and 20 other employees and former employees of the space company accuse in an essay that appeared on the “Lioness” media platform, the innovative company has a toxic and outdated working atmosphere. “Many of us have spent our careers dreaming of launching a crewed rocket into space and seeing it land safely on Earth,” the website reads. “But when Jeff Bezos went into space in July of this year, we didn’t share his joy. Instead, many of us watched with an overwhelming sense of discomfort. Some of us couldn’t bear to watch.” On its company website, Blue Origin boasts of wanting to enable a future scenario in which people live and work in space. “But if this company’s culture and work environment is a blueprint for the future that Jeff Bezos envisions, then we are moving in a direction that reflects the worst of the world we live in now and that urgently needs to change . ”

Inappropriate behavior towards women is common

Abrams & Co. criticize the fact that the majority of the company’s 3,600 employees, who are supposed to help shape the future of everyone, are white men. The proportion of women in senior technicians and program managers is also zero. “Gender differences in the workforce are common in the aerospace industry, but at Blue Origin they also manifest themselves in a special kind of sexism,” the group of employees and ex-employees continued. Inappropriate behavior towards women on the part of executives is not uncommon and is known throughout the company. As an example, the essay cites a senior executive from CEO Bob Smith’s inner circle, who, although repeatedly faced with allegations of sexual harassment, was made by Smith personally as a member of the recruitment committee for a senior HR position in the year Was appointed in 2019. Another former employee with a managerial position had also repeatedly treated women condescendingly and dropped terms such as “little girl”, “doll” or “sweetheart”. “His inappropriate behavior was so well known that some women at the company warned new female employees to stay away from him while he was hiring.” According to the authors of the text, the impression often arose that the employee in question was protected by his personal relationship with Bezos himself before an assault on an employee that ultimately resulted in his dismissal. The report includes numerous other examples of sexism at Blue Origin.

Sustainability is not a priority

But Abrams & Co. do not only criticize the discrimination of female employees in their essay. From the point of view of environmental protection, there is still a lot of room for improvement at Blue Origin. “The company announces that it will build a better world because we are well on our way to ruining this world, but none of us have seen Blue Origin have concrete plans to go carbon neutral or to significantly increase its large environmental footprint reduce “is the criticism of the authors. Bezos had publicly addressed the importance of the topic and made donations to environmental organizations, but the employees never experienced sustainability as a priority in their day-to-day work. And even if the employees themselves expressed concerns about the way the company treats the environment, they usually bit granite. “The company headquarters, which opened in 2020, is not a LEED-certified building and was built on wetlands that were drained for construction. Ultimately, the surrounding streets had to be raised to mitigate the resulting severe flooding,” the authors say. “We have not found that sustainability, climate change or climate justice influence the decision-making process or the corporate culture of Blue Origin.

Tremendous psychological pressure

But the psychological effects of dealing with employees should not be underestimated either. So many employees would have to go to their limits. According to the authors, management memos stated that executives should get more out of their subordinates and that they should regard it as a “privilege to be part of history”. The essay also reports on previously committed employees whose passion for space was so limited by working at Blue Origin that they suffered suicidal thoughts.

Security flaws: US authorities want to examine allegations

The driving force is also the competition with SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. In meetings of the management level, the question is repeatedly asked “When will Elon or Branson fly?”, The essay continues. In order not to fall behind the competition, Blue Origin is working at full speed – and not only at the expense of employees, but also safety, as Abrams and Co. explain. One of the engineers who also contributed to the report said that Blue Origin was lucky that there was no security disaster yet. When employees asked to approve more staff or expenses, Blue Origin often said that one should “be careful with Jeff’s money,” “stop asking,” and “be grateful.” Should employees nevertheless try to fight for better working conditions, they end up on a list of “troublemakers”, which is distributed to senior executives, according to the authors. In the long term, these should then be pushed out of the company.

As reported by “CNBC”, the US Federal Aviation Administration declared after the publication of the essay that it would take these safety concerns seriously and would like to examine them.

Control over employees using clauses

In order to maintain control over the company and prevent criticism from reaching the public, Bezos is also said to have implemented an initiative in 2018 that aimed at all employees giving up their right to clarify labor disputes in court or to talk about harassment or to express discriminatory behavior. In 2019, the management level then asked all employees to sign new contracts with a non-defamation clause. Not only do the employees themselves commit themselves, but also their heirs not to say a bad word about Blue Origin. “The contracts of some departing employees now provide that they take over the legal fees of the company, if this should sue them for breach of contract,” it says in the essay. “The inner circle of executives kept track of who signed and discussed contingency plans for those who didn’t.”

“Egocentric Individuals with Endless Money Stores”

While the authors of the text admit that no company is perfect, this is no excuse for the behavior of Blue Origin’s senior management. “We have made many mistakes on planet earth. Shouldn’t the leaders of a company that advertises themselves as the solution for the future of humanity also ensure that their company operates ethically, responsibly and is subject to oversight that creates accountability and Not so with Blue Origin, “summarize Abrams & Co.” Should we as a society allow egocentric individuals with endless stores of money and very little accountability to shape this future? ”

Blue Origin denies allegations

After the essay was published on the online platform, Linda Mills, Vice President of Communications at Blue Origin, spoke up. “Blue Origin does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind,” Mills dismissed the allegations from the essay. “We offer a wide range of opportunities to our employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline, and we will investigate any new allegations of misconduct promptly. We stand by our safety record and believe that the New Shepard is the safest spacecraft ever designed or developed was built.” The communications manager did not address the other allegations from the essay.

“Don’t be afraid to be silenced anymore”

According to Mills, Abrams was fired two years ago after receiving multiple warnings for violating federal export control regulations. Abrams then told CNBC that he had never received any form of warning about problems with federal export control regulations. Speaking to CBS Mornings, she said she was fired after criticizing the introduction of stricter agreements that, in her opinion, deprived employees of the right to take disputes in court or to speak about discrimination. She also signed a corresponding declaration herself. Nevertheless, she decided to go public with the grievances at Blue Origin. “I’m so far removed from it that I’m no longer afraid to let myself be silenced,” Abrams said in an interview with the broadcaster.

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Criticism of working conditions at Blue Origin: Abuses in the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ group