How could a community home to one of the most popular tourist attractions in France need a bailout from Amazon? The Gard, home to Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct has 1 million visitors per year. Despite this frequent tourism, the Gard has one of France’s highest unemployment rates, at 9.8 percent above France’s 7.1 percent. The Gard has been in economic trouble since the 1980s when coal plants shut down but recently two factories closed down outside of Fournes. In nearby villages, joblessness is around 25 percent. It seems as though France’s attempt to push their country towards a clean economy and reduce black carbon’s carbon emissions has failed because no opportunity was presented to replace those jobs.
Amazon is here to help, depending on who you ask. Unlike in-person businesses that have been losing business as a result of Coronavirus, Amazon has been growing exponentially as people around the world have been relying on online retailers to provide them with almost everything. As Coronavirus develops, Amazon has grossed $88.9 billion in global sales in the second quarter of 2020 and Amazon is using this as an opportunity to expand internationally.
Amazon launched in France in 2001 and now accounts for nearly 50 percent of online sales in the country. A sorting center is set to be constructed in the Gard, an agrarian area in the southside of France. Amazon already has 9 factories and sorting centers in France which employ 9,300 workers.
However, Amazon doesn’t have a good track record with respecting labor laws. In Washington, Amazon warehouses have higher injury claims than dangerous professions such as logging and meatpacking. A local activist group, Association for the Development of Employment while Respecting the Environment (ADERE) noted that Amazon has consistently offered lower wages and tends to ruin small businesses. Even if Amazon can offer an estimated “240 full-time employees”, there is no guarantee that it would help the region if wages are low and could put some shops out of business.
Amazon and the company constructing the new sorting center, Aragan, didn’t respond to comment so whether Amazon’s commitments towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will be actualized in this project is not known. Amazon has implemented some energy efficient practices into recent French warehouses. Amazon has cited a study conducted by LSA Commerce Connecté “showing online shopping curbed air pollution by reducing car trips to stores” This may be true overall but a study conducted in Germany reported that as soon as people start returning products carbon emissions go up and 1 in 3 products ordered online are returned. The storing center is set to increase car movement in the region exponentially, increasing it to “over 1,400 delivery vans and trucks” daily which will increase carbon emissions and negatively affect air quality in the region.
Environmentalists are trying to encourage projects that would offer jobs and help promote the environment. Many of the small business owners in the areas say that the new sorting center will ruin biodiversity and has the potential to pollute the Gard River. Biodiversity is “the number and variety of species and the range of their genetic makeup.” Bees are reducing as emissions from cars have gone up. French people are very aware of Amazon and their poor record causing “over 27,000 people” to sign a position against the construction. Even activists have sued to stop construction.
Local officials emphasize that they would rather boost tourism by investing in infrastructure but they fear that the economic crisis can’t wait. In addition to “about 240 jobs”, Amazon would be paying a “development fee of 400,000 euros” and “180,000 euros” in property taxes per year. So it seems as though the local officials aren’t too concerned about the environment because surely tourism would increase car traffic and air pollution.
While some in the community promote saving the environment over Amazon’s new development, some view jobs as more important. A nearby village, Remoulins, has an unemployment rate that is about 20 percent. But there is also a large part of the community, particularly French Arabs that don’t have access to long-term employment opportunities, and the jobs that would be coming to the region would be full-time jobs. Many businesses are boarded up due to a lack of business and jobs would an increased status of living and spending ability on other small businesses in the region.
Outside of environmentalists, many in the community don’t want Amazon in their community because they feel that it would tarnish the region’s reputation. Activists have fought to keep Amazon out of their community because they have traditions that they would like to uphold, particularly taking children to school in a horse and carriage. This is a very elitist point of view because it doesn’t consider the people in the community that are unemployed or having failing businesses that rely on the government for loans.
Ideally, Amazon would not be needed in order to help this community rise out of this economic recession, but there is a lack of concrete plans presented by officials as well as dissenters in local groups. Currently, construction has stopped and awaits a decision from the court in Nîmes. So, local officials and groups against this construction of a new Amazon center have time to present an option that promotes all forms of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. But if the Amazon center gets approved by the courts and if they don’t have a better option, Amazon’s presence could be beneficial to the community if they promote sustainable practices and development. If approved, Amazon should work to preserve the common air and water of the region through continuing to invest in energy-efficient practices and the local government should use the taxes collected from Amazon to support their community and work to improve the environment.
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Farmbrough, H. (2019, October 14). Why Internet Shopping Isn’t Always Better For the Environment. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/heatherfarmbrough/2019/10/14/why-internet-shopping-isnt-always-better-for-the-environment/.
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Pont du Gard – Ancient Roman Bridge. Pont du Gard – Construction of Ancient Roman Bridge. http://www.historyofbridges.com/famous-bridges/pont-du-gard/.
Romano, B. (2020, October 25). Amazon’s warehouses have more costly workplace injury claims than meatpacking or logging, Washington state says. The Columbian. https://www.columbian.com/news/2020/oct/25/amazons-warehouses-have-more-costly-workplace-injury-claims-than-meatpacking-or-logging-washington-state-says/.