ABA Joins Organizations in Calling for Jeff Bezos to Testify in Front of House Judiciary Committee [2]

On Thursday, May 28, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) joined organizations in sending a letter (full text below) to the House Judiciary Committee calling for the committee to stay firm in its request for Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos to testify as part of its investigation into the company’s anticompetitive conduct. The letter, spearheaded by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance [4], was addressed to Chairmen Jerry Nadler and David Cicilline, Ranking Members James Sensenbrenner and James Jordan, Vice Chair Joe Neguse, and Members Ken Buck, Matt Gaetz, and Pramila Jayapal.

Athena [5], Jobs with Justice [6], Main Street Alliance [7], and Open Markets Institute [8] were among the co-signatories.

The group’s letter comes as Amazon recently said [9] the company would not send Bezos, but rather “the appropriate executive,” to testify in front of the committee. In a bipartisan letter [5] sent to Amazon and Bezos in early May, the House Judiciary Committee had called on Bezos to testify as part of the committee’s investigation into Amazon. While the committee asked Bezos to testify voluntarily, the letter left open the possibility for the committee to “resort to compulsory process if necessary.”

In the letter, the organizations asserted, “It is time for Mr. Bezos, as President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board, to answer for his company’s systematic anti-competitive behavior and repeated efforts by Amazon executives to deceive the public.”

“Up until now, Mr. Bezos has left the dirty work of misleading lawmakers and the public up to subordinate employees. In an act of remarkable defiance, Amazon has publicly dismissed the request for Mr. Bezos’s testimony and suggested it will send yet another Amazon executive to carry his water. Amazon’s response shows blatant disrespect to Committee members, your bipartisan request and investigation, and for the business community that is being undermined by Amazon’s abusive tactics and for whom The Committee is standing up for,” the letter continued.

In addition to joining forces with the coalition, the American Booksellers Association also sent Chairman Nadler ABA’s White Paper that details Amazon’s pattern of abusive behavior.

An article from the Wall Street Journal [10] claiming that Amazon used sensitive business information from individual third-party sellers on its platform to inform the development of Amazon’s own competing products prompted the committee’s recent letter to Bezos requesting his testimony.

Importantly, the Wall Street Journal article directly contradicts [11] statements made by Amazon in sworn written and oral testimony at a July 2019 House Judiciary Committee hearing. When asked about Amazon’s use of third-party seller data at the July 2019 hearing, Amazon Associate General Counsel Nate Sutton said, “We do not use any seller data to compete with them.”

As the committee’s letter states, the Wall Street Journal report was sourced from interviews with current or former Amazon employees as well internal company documents. Amazon employees referred to using third-party data when making products as “standard operating procedure.” While official company policy prohibits this practice, Amazon employees report that the policy is not uniformly enforced.

The organizations’ letter to the House Judiciary Committee stated, “We and our constituents and members believe it is imperative that you now follow through on the option, which you made explicit in your letter, to compel Mr. Bezos to testify by subpoena. Failing to do so would not only undermine your own authority, but it would also implicitly condone Amazon’s deception and increasing dominance of the online retail market.”

“There can be no true accountability in this matter unless Mr. Bezos, the public face of his company and its sole leader, is required to answer the questions of the American people,” the letter said. “And there can be no movement to protect American businesses from Amazon’s predation unless its executives face consequences for their actions and their lies.”

“The country is watching for your next move,” the letter concluded, “and we urge you to be courageous.”


May 28, 2020

Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
The Honorable David Cicilline
Chairman
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
The Honorable Matt Gaetz
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
The Honorable Pramila Jayapal
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairmen Nadler and Cicilline, Ranking Members Sensenbrenner and Jordan, Vice Chair Neguse, and Representatives Buck, Gaetz, and Jayapal:

We are grateful for your consistent demonstration of support for America’s small businesses, especially those of you who displayed this yet again in your May 1 letter to Amazon. We write to urge you to compel Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to personally testify before the Judiciary Committee, as requested in that letter. As you made clear, it is time for Mr. Bezos, as President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board, to answer for his company’s systematic anti-competitive behavior and repeated efforts by Amazon executives to deceive the public.

Up until now, Mr. Bezos has left the dirty work of misleading lawmakers and the public up to subordinate employees. In an act of remarkable defiance, Amazon has publicly dismissed the request for Mr. Bezos’s testimony and suggested it will send yet another Amazon executive to carry his water. Amazon’s response shows blatant disrespect to Committee members, your bipartisan request and investigation, and for the business community that is being undermined by Amazon’s abusive tactics and for whom The Committee is standing up for. We and our constituents and members believe it is imperative that you now follow through on the option, which you made explicit in your letter, to compel Mr. Bezos to testify by subpoena. Failing to do so would not only undermine your own authority, but it would also implicitly condone Amazon’s deception and increasing dominance of the online retail market. These are urgent threats to the security of American consumers and businesses.

Now more than ever, American consumers are concerned about the survival of the small businesses that enliven our homes and our communities. The last few months have also brought unprecedented scrutiny over Amazon’s mistreatment of frontline workers, raising further concerns that the company feels it does not need to answer to anybody--not its workers or labor law and enforcement agencies, or even the advice of public health experts. You have our full support, as well as the support of our millions of members across the country, in challenging Amazon’s impunity.

The American public deserves to know the truth about Amazon’s anti-competitive behavior. As we begin to survey the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, we see that many, many small business owners have been harmed beyond recovery. It is sickening to think how many of them were not able to survive because they were undermined by the actions of a company that has exploited the pandemic to reap record profits.

Nobody wants to see yet another anonymous Amazon executive trotted out to deceive our elected leaders with barely plausible denials and empty assurances, especially not after one such executive has already misled, and possibly lied, to Congress. There can be no true accountability in this matter unless Mr. Bezos, the public face of his company and its sole leader, is required to answer the questions of the American people. And there can be no movement to protect American businesses from Amazon’s predation unless its executives face consequences for their actions and their lies.

As advocates for small businesses, consumers, communities, and Amazon workers, we believe  that the surest path to such consequences is to follow the one that most of you yourselves set out in your letter in May. It is up to you to enact the right that you reserve, in your own words, to “resort to compulsory process” if Mr. Bezos does not accept your invitation to voluntarily answer for his company's anti-competitive behavior. As we said in our previous letter, if we continue to fail to hold Amazon to account as it accumulates more political and economic power, we will only do further damage to ourselves, our democracy, and the rule of law. The country is watching for your next move, and we urge you to be courageous.

Please feel free to contact us through Athena’s Director Dania Rajendra at 862.201.5622 or director@athenaforall.org [12].

Sincerely,

Athena
America Economic Liberties Project
American Booksellers Association
American Independent Business Alliance
American Specialty Toy Retailing Association
Cambridge Local First
Campaign for Accountability
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Popular Democracy
Color of Change
Dane Buy Local
Demand Progress Education Fund
Fight for the Future
Independent Office Products & Furniture Dealers Association
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Jobs with Justice
Local First Arizona
Local First Arizona Foundation
Lowcountry Local First
Louisville Independent Business Alliance
Main Street Alliance
Make The Road New York
New York Communities for Change
Open Markets Institute
Portland Buy Local
Public Citizen
Revolving Door Project
Stay Local
US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
 
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