Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Inc. (Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg)

Bezos Faces Berlin Protest on Tax Policy, Worker Treatment

(Bloomberg) -- Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos faced protests against the company’s tax policy and its treatment of workers when he arrived in Berlin to collect an award Tuesday.

Andrea Nahles, the newly elected leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, joined a demonstration organized by labor union Ver.di outside Axel Springer SE’s headquarters, where Bezos was presented a prize for innovation.

Bezos Faces Berlin Protest on Tax Policy, Worker Treatment

Outside, about 350 protesters blew whistles, banged drums and waved signs that read “make Amazon pay.” Nahles, an outspoken former party rebel, was elected SPD leader on Sunday and is billed as a possible chancellor candidate for the next election in 2021. The German labor union has been pushing for higher pay for Amazon’s thousands of workers in the country for several years, claiming they receive lower wages than workers in other retail jobs.

Bezos treats his employees badly and is among big tech companies that are “world champions in tax avoidance,” Nahles told reporters in Berlin. “This does not deserve a prize.”

Amazon and its U.S. tech peers like Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. are facing growing opposition from policy makers on issues ranging from labor conditions to tax avoidance and data privacy. U.S. President Donald Trump has singled out Amazon for paying too little tax and hurting traditional retailers, while the European Union is considering a new levy on companies such as Google and Facebook that route profits made in the bloc through low-tax countries.

Amazon has changed when criticized before, but on the subject of working conditions, the critics are wrong, Bezos said.

“I’m very proud of our working conditions, and I’m very proud of the wages we pay,” including in Germany, he said, speaking in a fireside chat with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Doepfner.

Germany is Amazon’s second-biggest market behind the U.S., with $17 billion in sales making up nearly 10 percent of 2017 revenue.

One of the protesters at the event was Thomas Rigol, 37, who joined Amazon as a logistics worker in Leipzig in 2008. Rigol says he would like Bezos to give unions a say in the company, and increase profit sharing opportunities for workers.

“But mostly it’s about respect, which the simple workers aren’t getting from the upper management,” Rigol said. “Mr. Bezos is the richest man in the world and we are being patronized.”

In its annual shareholder letter last week, Amazon disclosed the median annual compensation of its employees: $28,446. Bezos reported a total compensation of $1.68 million last year, the bulk of which went to personal security costs.

When asked a question about whether he was concerned Trump would try to break up Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, Bezos said he expects to be scrutinized. “The big tech companies have become large enough that they’re going to be inspected,” Bezos said. “It’s fine.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.