Amazon is deceiving consumers by failing to clearly delineate between paid advertisements and organic search results on its online marketplace, according to a coalition of unions, the latest barb in a long-running feud between the world’s biggest online retailer and organized labor.
In a complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission, the unions accuse Seattle-based Amazon of violating laws prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices. The coalition says mislabeled ads are so prevalent that Amazon’s search platform itself may be “deceptive as a whole.”
“The vast deception being perpetrated by Amazon through its blatantly unlawful advertising practices affects millions of consumers every day and should be halted,” the Strategic Organizing Center said in the filing.
The FTC, which has been investigating Amazon’s practices, declined to comment about the complaint. The regulatory agency is trying to keep pace with the digital age where paid promotions aren’t always clearly identified.
Amazon spokeswoman Kristin Mariani said the company follows federal guidelines on identifying advertising. “This report is incorrect and misstates FTC guidance — ads in Amazon’s store always include a clear and prominent ‘sponsored’ label, implemented in accordance with FTC guidelines,” she said in an emailed statement.
The Strategic Organizing Center, whose members include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, last month lodged a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging Amazon provided “misleading or grossly incomplete” data about the number of COVID-19 infections potentially spread in its U.S. facilities. The company disputed the allegation.
Amazon, whose U.S. workforce consists mostly of hourly warehouse workers, has been a union target for years.
In April, Amazon employees in Alabama voted against being represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A federal labor official last month ordered a new election, saying Amazon interfered in the election process by encouraging workers to cast ballots via a mailbox that was within view of parking lot security cameras. A separate group is trying to organize Amazon warehouse workers on New York’s Staten Island, while the Teamsters are seeking to unionize company facilities in Canada.
The union complaint to the FTC was reported earlier by The Washington Post.