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Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon’s advertisement for their new “partnership” sounds suspiciously like a multi-level marketing scheme.

Amazon delivery

Amazon’s labor abuses are beyond well-established. Just peruse Google for a while if you need examples. You’ll see stories from employees who have been denied bathroom breaks, or forced to continue working after coworkers have died on the job. Yet somehow despite all of these allegations, they have managed to sink lower with their reprehensible practices.

Recently, Amazon ran a swath of Facebook ads asking, “Have you ever wanted to own a business? As an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, you’ll start your own package-delivery business, build a team, and have access to Amazon’s technology and logistics expertise.”

Amazon partnership ad

If you’ve ever been DM’ed by a long-lost school acquaintance with an “amazing business opportunity”, you might have the same reaction to that as I did: Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multi-level marketing as “a business structure or practice in which an individual seller earns commissions both from direct sales and from the sales of the seller’s recruits, of those recruited by the seller’s recruits, and so on.” As recruiting becomes more important than selling products, only a slim minority of particularly successful recruiters end up seeing profits in an MLM.

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DSPs are not buying or selling Amazon products, nor are they being incentivized for signing up others to be delivery partners. They are meant to serve as the last leg of transportation between Amazon warehouses and consumers. In fact, Amazon makes the exclusivity of the program clear on their website. DSPs are able to hire between 40-100 staff, but this bears more resemblance to chain franchising than a pyramid scheme, at least on the surface. After all, some of the most predatory MLMS out there began seemingly innocently – just look at Mary Kay.

Amazon requires Delivery Service Partners to have at least $30,000 to fully cover all costs associated with starting up: Not just for uniforms, leases on Amazon branded trucks, insurance, and mobile scanners, but also the applicant’s cost-of-living while getting their business off the ground.

It’s scummy enough that their advertising is taking notes from the MLM playbook. But it actually raises more red flags than it resolves: The DSP program seems like yet another example of how the definition of an employee is getting blurrier by the day.

Uber and Lyft, for example, lease vehicles for their drivers in the same way that Amazon leases trucks and other equipment for their Delivery Service Partners. Rideshare drivers, like DSPs, are responsible for their own insurance costs and have no guaranteed income, either. Amazon is clearly trying to skirt its way around the responsibilities they would ordinarily have as an employer, a problem that unfortunately lies at the heart of the sharing economy.

Amazon’s decision to expand their delivery fleet also comes at an uncanny time. Right now, the United States Postal Service is severely underfunded and its future is uncertain. It provides business owners of all sizes with low-cost mail and parcel delivery, and is obligated to deliver to every home address in the United States.

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While the USPS does partner with Amazon to deliver packages, it’s still awfully convenient for Amazon to be introducing this “business opportunity” now. Under the guise of supporting entrepreneurship, Amazon is preparing a death blow to their smaller competitors – think independent retailers, suppliers, crafters and artists that rely on affordable, accessible postage to sell their goods.

While it’s a stretch to label this program an MLM right out of the gate, the whole thing still stinks to high heaven, and we recommend you steer clear. Make no mistake, this is a business opportunity for Amazon alone.

If you dream of owning a business and you have $30,000 to invest, that is a great start! But for goodness sake, invest that in yourself. It would be a shame to waste your time and money lining a mega-corporation’s pockets.

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Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

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