- A group of unions has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon's market power and some of its business practices.
- In a petition to the agency, they urged the FTC to examine alleged anti-competitive behavior on Amazon's part, including directly and indirectly controlling product prices, tying its search rankings to the company's own profit, price discrimination against users of competing e-commerce platforms, using data from its platforms to give it an advantage, and depressing wages in local labor markets.
- Signing the petition were the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the Service Employees International Union and Change to Win, a federation of unions. Amazon did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The scrutiny of Amazon's power, and how the e-commerce giant wields it, has been growing over the past year. The European Union's competition agency and the U.S. House of Representatives have launched inquiries into Amazon, and the FTC reportedly is already conducting an investigation into Amazon that is looking in part at Amazon's control over third-party sellers on its Marketplace.
Of particular concern is the share Amazon controls through e-commerce generally and its position as a dominant third-party platform. As the company grows and adds new lines of business, critics have voiced concern that the company has broad influence over multiple areas of commerce.
"Amazon is unique, not only in its current size and growth trajectory, but in the breadth of its interests across markets and its expansion into all levels of the supply chain," the unions wrote in their petition. The petitioners also pointed to Amazon's power as an employer in consolidated labor markets and over its network of third-party contractors, including in delivery.
For years, Amazon largely avoided scrutiny by antitrust enforcers, who are tasked with preventing monopolies from hurting the economy or forming through mergers. The company has benefited from a long period of soft-touch enforcement — the government hasn't forced the breakup of a major company since the early 1980s — as well as its reputation for low prices and happy customers.
Over the years, though, a number of reports and studies — many of which were highlighted in the petition — have raised concerns that Amazon's own brands and retail arm benefit from data on third-party sales, that it can control markets (especially via its search and "Buy Box" algorithms) and compel sellers to buy services from Amazon, among other things.
Plenty of observers, and Amazon itself, maintain that the company is far from being a monopoly, often citing Amazon's relatively small share of the total pie of U.S. retail sales, of which Amazon represents less than 5%. Jeff Wilke, CEO of worldwide consumer operations at Amazon, has said publicly that, "I think that substantial entities in the economy deserve scrutiny and our job is to build a company that passes that scrutiny."