Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos received France’s highest honor at a private ceremony hosted by President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace on Feb. 16, according to people familiar with the matter.
Macron, who has been promoting the country’s tech industry, personally handed the world’s third-richest person the Legion of Honor award, the people said, asking not to be identified because the event was private.
Bezos’s girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, posted a photo of the couple on Instagram on Sunday with the Eiffel Tower in the background that said, “The most magical day celebrating you surrounded by friends and family. #Legionofhonor.”
Representatives for Amazon declined to comment. The French presidency didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment. The story was first reported in Le Point.
The Legion of Honor, founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is a rare distinction for a foreigner and isn’t necessarily made public when given to a non-French citizen. It may be given to outsiders who have rendered “cultural or economic services to France, or promoted causes that it defends,” according to the Legion of Honor office’s website.
Some left wing opposition criticized Macron for the optics of awarding the billionaire the distinction on the same day as countrywide protests against the government’s pension reform plan.
Amazon, which has about 15,000 employees in France, has also been an occasional target of labor actions. Unions staged Black Friday strikes and protests at 18 Amazon warehouses in France and Germany last year, while some of the company’s plans to build new warehouses in the country have been blocked by campaigners on ecological, economical and political grounds.
Bezos was formally awarded the Legion of Honor under then President Nicolas Sarkozy over a decade ago but had never picked it up in person, the people said.
Earlier this week at an event at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Macron touted efforts the French government is making to encourage the tech industry. That includes about €11 billion ($11.6 billion) in public funds aimed at financing innovative fields, such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology, and another €5 billion planned for the second phase of his “France 2030” program.
Bezos, 59, joins Microsoft founder Bill Gates and its former Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, who were given the award in 2017 and 2011 respectively. Gates received the honor with his now ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, for their work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previous foreign recipients also include musicians Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.
Bezos, who stepped down as Amazon’s CEO in 2021 but remains chairperson of the e-commerce giant, met with Macron in 2020 to discuss sustainability initiatives and his Bezos Earth Fund.