A bipartisan group of House lawmakers investigating Amazon for possible antitrust violations have demanded that Jeff Bezos testify before Congress to address statements by the company that “appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious”.
“Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary,” seven leaders of the House judiciary committee, including the chair Jerry Nadler, wrote in a letter to the Amazon CEO on Friday.
Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the House’s antitrust subcommittee who has been leading investigations into the major internet platforms, further stated on Twitter that he is considering a referral to prosecutors.
“As CEO and founder of the company, [Jeff Bezos] must be accountable for Amazon’s record of dishonesty before Congress,” he tweeted. “In light of the gravity of this situation, I am also considering whether a perjury referral is warranted.”
While Amazon had already been a subject of the antitrust subcommittee’s investigation, pressure on the company increased following the publication of a Wall Street Journal investigation into the company’s use of data to compete with sellers on its marketplace.
Amazon was launched as an e-commerce site where customers could buy products directly from Amazon itself, but in 2000 it began allowing third-party retailers to sell goods through the site as well. The move to running a “marketplace” allowed Amazon to increase the range of products offered on its site, while giving sellers access to Amazon’s vast customer base.
In 2019, Bezos told shareholders that third-party sellers accounted for more than half (58%) of the physical gross merchandise sold on Amazon.
But the situation caused unease among antitrust campaigners and advocates for fair competition, especially as Amazon moved more aggressively into selling private label goods that compete directly with marketplace sellers. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a fierce critic of the company, has compared Amazon’s position with regard to the marketplace as akin to being “both the umpire and a player in the game”.
In July 2019, Nate Sutton, the associate general counsel for Amazon, provided sworn testimony to congress that Amazon does “not use any seller data to compete with” third-party sellers or to inform decisions about launching its private label brands.
But more than 20 former employees of the company’s private label brands told the Wall Street Journal that it was “standard operating practice” for Amazon employees use data about individual sellers to inform decisions about their own products.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has previously denied misleading Congress and has said that it is investigating the “serious allegations of employee misconduct” described in the Journal’s report.
Amazon Policy (@amazon_policy)
.@RepJerryNadler Respectfully, suggestions we misled Congress are unfounded. We’ve been clear w/ the Committee that Amazon prohibits use of individual sellers’ data as WSJ alleged. As w/ any serious allegation of employee misconduct, we are investigating. https://t.co/umZ7IC6twz https://t.co/ES3XA7SwsY pic.twitter.com/R43YksTPYQ
April 24, 2020
“Amazon often acts as though it’s above the law,” said Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Today, the House judiciary committee firmly demonstrated that it’s not.”
Mitchell also testified before the House committee, at the same hearing in which Sutton made his disputed statement.
“Amazon doesn’t just dominate markets,” she said at the time. “Through its control of essential infrastructure, it has assumed governing authority over a growing share of our commerce … Amazon has the power to regulate, tax, and punish Americans engaged in trade … To restore competition and safeguard our liberty, we need to both restructure and regulate Amazon.”