Why Amazon got smacked by Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes jab at Apple over labor practices

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking at the WWDC 2019 conference. (Apple Photo)

With Apple CEO Tim Cook in the audience and a recent report on labor violations in the news, it’s no surprise that Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais took a swing at the company during his opening monologue, but he didn’t stop at one tech giant.

“Apple rolled into the TV game with ‘The Morning Show,’ a superb drama about dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China,” Gervais said after the camera cut to Cook.

“Well you say you’re woke, but the companies you work for, I mean, unbelievable, Apple, Amazon, Disney,” Gervais admonished the entertainment industry insiders in the crowd. “If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent.”

None of the companies responded to requests to comment on Gervais’ remarks.

Gervais’ jab at Apple likely refers to a September report from the nonprofit China Labor Watch. The watchdog found Apple and its manufacturing partner Foxconn in violation of multiple labor laws.

Apple denied most of the allegations, but did confirm it had more temporary workers than Chinese law allows, according to Bloomberg.

Disney has also navigated labor issues in recent years. The company agreed to pay $3.8 billion in back wages to workers under a 2017 settlement with the U.S. Labor Department.

Related: Amazon wins 2 Golden Globes for series ‘Fleabag’; host Ricky Gervais rips Hollywood and big tech

Amazon has endured its fair share of controversy over the treatment of its employees, particularly the warehouse workers behind the company’s e-commerce operation.

Reports of harsh conditions and intense deadlines in Amazon fulfillment centers have been surfacing for years. Most recently, an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that serious injuries are much higher at Amazon facilities than national averages.

Amazon has implemented changes in response to the criticism. In 2018 the company established an internal minimum wage of $15 per hour for all employees. Amazon is spending $700 million to retrain 100,000 workers and offers other educational and healthcare benefits to employees.

But those changes are no match for the swelling tide of opposition against the tech industry. Tech companies are increasingly lumped together by critics and, in this case, by a comedian.

In the U.S., the backlash has largely come in the form of rhetoric. Some states, like California, are pursuing regulatory recourse to protect consumer data. A federal privacy law has stalled in Congress but may be picking up steam. The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is circulating a draft of a federal privacy bill that has bipartisan support. Senate Democrats have also introduced a bill, led by Washington state’s Maria Cantwell, but it faces opposition from Republicans.

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