Jeff Bezos is giving $100 million to help America’s hungry during the coronavirus crisis, a gift that is one of the largest by a tech leader in response to the pandemic. But it also comes amid mounting concerns about how Bezos is treating his employees in his day job as CEO of Amazon.
Bezos announced on Thursday that he would be making the donation to Feeding America, a nonprofit that is serving as a clearinghouse to distribute money to food banks around the country. The gift is the nonprofit’s largest-ever single donation, Bezos’s third-biggest commitment to date, and is tied for the single-largest coronavirus commitment to date from tech philanthropists with the $100 million pledged by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gifts like these are significant and needed during a crisis like this. But billionaires’ philanthropy has increasingly come under fire as a distraction from valid criticisms of how these same billionaires earn their money. Bezos, for instance, has drawn scrutiny for not protecting warehouse and logistics workers enough from the coronavirus outbreak. The gift was announced around the same time Vice News reported that Bezos had sat in meetings where Amazon leadership sought ways to smear a worker who sounded the alarm bell about health and safety concerns at one of its biggest warehouses in Staten Island, New York.
And still, even with that context and the positive PR it will engender, the donation could make a real difference.
The $100 million “will enable us to provide more food to millions of our neighbors facing hardship during this crisis,” said Feeding America in a statement. “Countless lives will be changed because of his generosity.”
Feeding America, one of the country’s biggest charities, runs a network of about 200 food banks. The fund it created to cope with the coronavirus — which originally had just $2.7 million in it — is distributing emergency supplies to food banks across the country. Just on Wednesday, the group predicted that food banks would need $1.4 billion more over the next six months to feed the hungry.
“I want to support those on the front lines of our nation’s food banks and those who are relying on them,” Bezos said in an Instagram post announcing the donation (it’s where he seems to make all of his personal announcements these days).
After years of criticism for his relatively stingy public philanthropic giving, Bezos has opened his wallet considerably over the last two years, announcing his three largest gifts to date. Now the world’s richest person, Bezos since 2018 has also pledged $2 billion for a new charitable effort focused on aiding homelessness and early-childhood education, along with a $10 billion climate-change fund earlier this year.
Some critics of billionaire philanthropy are quick to point out that these are all very small percentages of Bezos’s net worth. It is indeed just 0.08 percent of his $120 billion in assets. But given that this is one of the largest coronavirus-related gifts yet, to be critical of the Bezos gift is to be critical of the size of all philanthropic donations amid a global crisis.