The announcement marks the second high-profile departure in as many days in the tech world. On Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg – one of the highest-ranking women in corporate America – announced she was stepping down as chief operating officer of Facebook, the company she helped transform into a digital-advertising behemoth.
Amazon warehouse workers suffer serious injuries at higher rates than other firms
Amazon declined to comment beyond the company blog and Clark’s note. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Clark’s ascending career at Amazon mirrored the company’s sprawling growth; he began as an operations manager, then moved up to a regional general manager position, and eventually oversaw the tech giant’s entire worldwide consumer business. When he joined the company, Amazon had just six fulfillment centers. It has since swelled into a corporate colossus, raking in $ 470 billion in sales last year and is valued among the elite club of trillion-dollar companies. Its operations now span online shopping, groceries, streaming, gadgets and Web services.
But Clark’s tenure, which began in 1999, has also been marked by a host of legal, regulatory and labor issues that have drawn the national spotlight on Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer.
Unionization pushes at a Bessemer, Ala., Warehouse and in New York have served as the basis for a resurgent labor movement that is reverberating in the retail and technology sectors. Amazon workers involved in the union drives have advocated for higher pay, expanded benefits and better treatment for staff – including more breaks and less-intense surveillance of their daily habits. The company counts more than 1,000 US warehouses.
As concerns about working conditions at Amazon increased in frequency, including criticism from legislators, Clark was sometimes quick to defend the company. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace,” Clark said in a tweet that he later deleted.
In June 2021, Clark announced Amazon’s intentions to become “Earth’s Best Employer,” pledging in a blog post to make Amazon a safer place to work and to soften the company’s emphasis on productivity metrics. The post was an update to an announcement made by Bezos two months earlier in a shareholder letter. But a report later found that the injury rate for workers at Amazon in 2021 was more than double that of workers in other warehouses.
Clark has headed Amazon’s logistics operation throughout the coronavirus pandemic, rolling out safety protocols to keep warehouses and deliveries in continuous operation but also facing questions about whether the company was accurately and transparently reporting case counts and infection rates. In January 2021, Clark wrote a letter to President Biden offering to help with the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. One month later, the New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Amazon accusing the company of “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements.”
New York sues Amazon alleging ‘flagrant disregard’ of health standards at warehouses
In recent years, Amazon has also become a frequent subject of congressional scrutiny. Investigators on Capitol Hill found that Amazon was among a handful of tech giants that engaged in anti-competitive, monopoly-style tactics and called for sweeping changes to federal laws to empower regulators, according to a 2020 House inquiry that spanned 16 months and culminated in a 450-page report.
In his role as consumer CEO, which he started in January 2021, Clark oversaw a significant portion of Amazon’s business, expanding his logistics and operations responsibilities to include retail and electronics. In April, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced that Amazon would be pulling back on expansion in some of those arenas, including shuttering much of its bricks-and-mortar retail footprint, because of slowed growth.