On Tuesday, following a 10-minute trip to the edge of suborbital space on his privately-funded rocket ship, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced that he’s bestowing the “Courage and Civility Award” to chef José Andrés and Van Jones, political commentator and founder of DreamCorps. The new prize “recognize[s] leaders who aim high, and who pursue solutions with courage and who always do so with civility.” Each awardee gets $100 million to disperse to charities of their choosing.
Expectedly, Andrés will channel his share into World Central Kitchen, his charity devoted to feeding people during times of disaster, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Andrés said:
I’m so honored. I’m really grateful for this award, and the incredible support from Jeff and the entire Bezos family. World Central Kitchen was born from the simple idea that food has the power to create a better world. A plate of food is a plate of hope … it’s the fastest way to rebuild lives and communities.
This award itself cannot feed the world on its own. But this is the start of a new chapter for us — it will allow us to think beyond the next hurricane to the bigger challenges we face. People of the world: now is the time to think really big, to solve hunger with the fierce urgency of now.
The thing we want to do is revolutionize disaster and hunger relief. People don’t want our pity, they want our respect … the least we can do is be next to them when things get tough...
While a $200 million donation is nothing to scoff at and will certainly go to good use — especially within World Central Kitchen — the amount is chump change to Bezos who, as the richest man in the world, has a $205 billion net worth. Not considering tax write-offs, the donations are together worth .08 percent of Bezos’s income.
The announcement of the new award comes at a time when Bezos is facing a lot of criticism, in part due to his expensive little space trip, but also because of the purported treatment of Amazon employees, especially Amazon drivers and warehouse workers. As Lauren Kaori Gurley reported for Vice in May 2021, “the fact that Amazon delivery drivers pee in bottles and coffee cups in their vans is not invented. It has been well-documented, and is a huge talking point among many delivery drivers. It is one of the most universal concerns voiced by the many Amazon delivery drivers around the country that Motherboard has interviewed. Delivery workers, who drive Amazon emblazoned vans, often deliver up to 300 packages a day on a 10-hour shift. If they take too long, they can be written up and fired.” Amazon is also known for its history of union-busting, as well as its leaked campaigns to smear workers who speak out against the company.
Does Bezos’s hefty donation to a worthy cause help negate his near-mythic position as an megalomaniacal enemy of the working class, an updated — and Alexa compatible — caricature of a greedy railroad baron? I think not, but also believe that everyone (World Central Kitchen, included) should take his money.