Tencent technology news on October 1, on Thursday local time, 21 current and former employees of Jeff Bezos’s space company Blue origin sent a document, saying that the company was a “toxic” workplace.
The article claims that blue origin forces employees to sign strict confidentiality agreements, stifles internal feedback, ignores safety issues, and puts women into a sexist environment. In addition, the article also cited many examples of allegations of sexual harassment.
The article wrote: “according to our experience, the culture of blue origin is based on ignoring the plight of the earth, turning a blind eye to gender discrimination, not enough coordination on security issues, and keeping silent those who try to correct their mistakes. This is not the world we should create on the earth, nor the springboard for us to a better world.”
The article was led by Alexandra Abrams, a former employee public relations director of blue origin. She said 20 current and former employees signed it. Most of these people are engineers. They refuse to disclose their identity publicly because they do not want to endanger their work in blue origin or harm their prospects for other jobs in the aerospace industry. “I’m far enough away from it. I’m no longer afraid. They let me keep silent,” Abrams said
In response to the request for comment, Linda mills, vice president of communication at blue origin, said that Abrams was “dismissed by the employer for good reasons” after being repeatedly warned about issues related to federal export control regulations in 2019.
In response to blue origin, Abrams said in a statement that she “has never received any verbal or written warnings from management on issues related to federal export control regulations”. She admitted that she was fired by blue origin, but said she was “shocked” when she heard the news. At that time, her manager said, “Bob and I can’t trust you anymore,” referring to CEO Bob Smith.
On gender discrimination and harassment
The article said, “in the aerospace industry, the gender gap in the labor force is very common”, but in the blue origin, they also show a specific kind of gender discrimination.
Two examples from senior leadership are given. It is reported that an executive in CEO Smith’s core circle has been repeatedly complained of sexual harassment submitted by employees to the human resources team. But when blue origin recruited for a senior human resources position, Smith still made the executive a member of the company’s recruitment Committee.
In the second example, a former executive is said to often belittle women, calling them “baby girls”, “dolls” or “sweethearts” and asking them for details of their dating life. The article claims that blue origin will warn newly recruited female employees to stay away from the executive who allegedly has a close personal relationship with Bezos. “It was not until the executive touched the body of a female subordinate that he was finally fired,” the article said
Mills said in her statement: “blue origin does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment. We provide employees with a variety of ways, including a 24-hour anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new allegations of misconduct.”
The article said that blue origin also strengthened the strict confidentiality agreement and promoted all employees to sign a new contract with non derogatory terms in 2019. Many current and former employees said the company’s work culture “damaged the mental health of many people”.
“Many former and current employees have had experiences that can only be described as inhuman, and they are afraid of the potential consequences of openly opposing the richest people on earth.” the letter quoted a senior project leader who has worked in the aerospace and defense industries for decades, claiming that “working at blue origin is the worst experience of her life”.
FAA reviews security allegations
Safety concerns are another key to this article. The article claims that “many engineers who ensure rocket safety” were either forced to leave or “sealed” after internal criticism.
The article said that last year, the leadership of blue origin was “increasingly impatient” with the low flight frequency of its sub orbital rocket “new Shepard”, saying that the company’s team needed to increase from “several flight jumps per year to more than 40”.
The article wrote: “when Bezos flew into space in July this year, we did not share his joy. On the contrary, many of us were worried, and some even couldn’t bear to watch it. Competing with other billionaires and ‘making progress for Bezos’ seemed to take priority over the security issues that would slow down the agenda.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement on Thursday that it was reviewing the safety concerns raised in this article and took every safety allegation seriously.
The article believes that blue origin does not pay much attention to environmental concerns and the impact on local ecology. Blue origin’s factory in Kent, Washington, had begun installing machines before the license was obtained. In addition, the headquarters of blue origin in Kent did not obtain LEED certification and claimed that it was “built on wetlands”.
Full text of a joint letter from 21 employees of blue origin:
We are a team of 21 former and current employees of blue origin. Many of us dream of helping to launch a manned rocket into space and see it land safely on earth. But when Bezos flew into space in July this year, we did not share his joy. On the contrary, many of us are worried, and some even can’t bear to watch it.
The mission of blue origin hangs in a prominent position on its website and is a noble statement: “in the future, millions of people will live and work in space for the benefit of the earth.” all of us have joined blue origin and are eager to innovate and open up opportunities to enter space for the benefit of mankind. We believe that it is necessary to explore human civilization outside the earth. But if the company’s culture and working environment are the template for Bezos’s vision of the future, we are moving towards the worst way to reflect the world we live in now, and we urgently need to change.
Blue origin currently has more than 3600 employees in six states and several other countries in the United States. However, in this company founded by Bezos, the employees committed to building the future for “everyone” are mostly men and the vast majority are white. All senior technical and project leaders are male.
The gender gap of labor force is very common in the aerospace industry, but in the blue origin, the gender gap also shows a specific gender discrimination. As we all know, many senior leaders have always belittled women. An executive in the core circle of CEO Bob Smith was repeatedly reported to the human resources department for sexual harassment. Even so, when recruiting HR executives in 2019, Smith personally appointed him as a member of the recruitment Committee.
Another former executive often treats women in a condescending and demeaning way, calling them “baby girls”, “dolls” or “sweethearts” and asking them about their dating life details. His misconduct is so well known that many women in the company began to warn newly recruited female employees to stay away from him, while he has been in charge of recruitment. For many of us, he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos. It was not until he touched the body of a female subordinate that he was finally fired.
In addition, a former NASA astronaut and blue origin executive once instructed a group of women he worked with: “you should ask me for advice because I am a man.” we found that many company leaders are not approachable and show obvious prejudice against women. Concerns about flying the new Shepard have been suppressed, and women have been belittled because of similar concerns. When a person is fired for poor performance, he is allowed to leave with dignity, even at a farewell party. However, when a female leader who significantly improved the performance of the Department was dismissed, she was ordered to leave immediately, and the security personnel lingered nearby until she left the building five minutes later.
What is the blind spot of an organization that claims its mission is to create a better future for mankind, but is full of gender discrimination? Unfortunately, the defect of blue origin extends further. The company announced that it is committed to building a better world, but we are moving towards destroying the world. However, none of us see that blue origin has developed any specific plans to achieve carbon neutrality or significantly reduce its huge environmental footprint.
Bezos made a compelling statement and donated money to climate justice, but “for the earth” began in people’s own backyard. In our experience, environmental issues have never been a priority of blue origin. Again and again, we have seen the Kent plant add new capacity, but it was not until the emergence of machines that the company began to consider the impact on the environment, including the need for a license to manage waste.
Over the years, employees have always been concerned about environmental problems, but these problems have not been solved to a great extent. The headquarters of the company opened in 2020 are buildings that have not obtained LEED certification, and are built on wetlands drained for construction. Eventually, the surrounding roads had to be raised to alleviate the ensuing severe floods. We do not see sustainability, climate change or climate justice affecting the decision-making process or corporate culture of blue origin.
This culture also has an impact on the mental health of many people who make the operation of blue origin possible. Many former and current employees have had inhuman experiences and are afraid of the potential consequences of openly opposing the richest people on earth. Others even thought of suicide after consuming their enthusiasm for space in this toxic environment. A senior project leader who has worked in the aerospace and defense industries for decades said that working in blue origin was the worst experience of her life.
Dissidents in the origin of blue were heavily suppressed. Smith personally told one of us not to let employees easily ask questions within the company. Smith also asked his chief operating officer to provide a list of employees of troublemakers or agitators. The list is then distributed to senior leaders so that they can “talk” to agitators in their team. Critics within the company were forced to step down for being outspoken and offered to pay in exchange for signing a stricter confidentiality agreement. Smith’s inner circle makes unilateral decisions, although it usually does not have the support of engineers, other experts or senior leaders of different departments.
This suppression of opposition also brings security issues, which is the driving force for many of us to publish this article. At the origin of blue, a common question during the high-level meeting is: when will Mascaro or Branson go into space? Competing with other billionaires and “making progress for Bezos” seem to take precedence over security concerns that will slow down the agenda.
In 2020, the company’s leaders will become increasingly impatient with the new Shepard’s annual flights, and their goal is to increase the number of flights to more than 40. Some of us believe that with the available resources and personnel, the leadership launching at such a dangerous speed is seriously endangering flight safety. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded, the government’s investigation determined that insisting on 24 launches a year “directly led to unsafe launch operations”. It is worth mentioning that the challenger’s investigation report also pointed out that internal suppression of differences of opinion was one of the factors leading to the disaster and loss of life.
An engineer who signed the article said: “blue origin is very lucky. So far, there has been no similar fatal incident.” many authors of this article said that they will not take the transportation of blue origin. In 2019, the team assigned to operate and maintain a subsystem of the new Shepard included only a few long-time engineers. In some of our opinions, their responsibilities are far beyond the limits of a team of twice the size, from investigating the root causes of failure to regular preventive maintenance of rocket systems.
Requests from managers and employees to increase engineers, employees or expenses are often rejected, although blue origin has one of the largest private sources of funds on earth. Employees are often told to “be careful with Bezos’s money”, “don’t ask for more” and “be grateful”. At the weekly meeting, we see that Bezos and CEO Smith often expand the scope of existing projects, sometimes even add more projects, but do not increase the necessary budget or personnel.
We have seen a decision-making model, which usually gives priority to execution speed and cost reduction, rather than increasing appropriate resources to ensure quality. In 2018, when a team leader took over, the team recorded more than 1000 reports of problems related to the engine that powered the blue origin rocket, which were never solved.
Many of us believe that history is repeating itself. Should we allow commercial entities that intend to let more and more people fly into space to make the same mistakes that led to past disasters? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible to the public as a civil organization, which is not the case with the origin of private companies.
In 2004, Congress suspended the development of new regulations for the commercial space sector and instructed the FAA to develop indicators to indicate when the industry was mature enough to adapt to a more stringent safety system. In a report to Congress in 2019, the FAA found that the current security measures were sufficient for the situation of the industry. At the same time, the FAA’s current safeguard measures for public safety are limited to ensuring that the orbit of the rocket will not collide with commercial aircraft, nor will it throw dangerous debris onto the people below.
We should not sacrifice our lives to attract people’s attention to what space companies are discussing behind closed doors. The lack of rules and regulations has helped the commercial aerospace industry flourish, but now it is time to require responsible supervision!
Today, blue origin is selling spacecraft seats, saying “safety is their top priority”, but although there are few regulatory measures to ensure this. Internally, many of us do not see leadership attention prioritizing sound systems engineering practices. System engineering products were created after the new Shepard was built and flown, not in the design phase, which affected the verification work.
Of course, no company is perfect. But equally important in the company and society is that when mistakes are exposed, the leadership will try to correct them and learn from them. Billionaires may like to portray themselves as altruists and use their resources for the benefit of mankind. However, in our opinion, this image is largely an illusion created by the public relations team.
We have made many mistakes on earth. Shouldn’t the leaders of a company that advertises itself as a solution for the future of mankind ensure that their company operates in an ethical and responsible manner and under the supervision of creating responsibility and ensuring safety? But in the origin of blue, this is not the case.
After a ruling of the Supreme Court in 2018 consolidated the legitimacy of the arbitration agreement, Bezos quietly launched an initiative to require all employees to sign and waive their right to resolve labor disputes in court or openly talk about harassment or discriminatory acts. In 2019, the leadership of blue origin asked all employees to sign new contracts, including a non derogatory clause to restrict them and never say anything that would damage the company’s goodwill. The contracts of some former employees now stipulate that if the company chooses to sue them for breach of contract, they must pay the company’s legal fees. The core circle of the leadership tracks who signed the agreement and discusses what emergency measures to take against those who did not sign the agreement.
Unlike many who criticize billionaires for going to space, most of us will be classified as space fans rather than space critics. If the rich want to spend their wealth on space adventures, that’s great. It can be said that this work is to explore, discover and serve our common future. It is right to acknowledge that private space travel is an engineering feat and imagine what space life might look like.
The artistic rendering of Bezos track colony has a utopian atmosphere. But given the disturbing systemic problems within his companies on earth, what would these colonies actually look like? According to our experience, the culture of blue origin is based on ignoring the plight of our planet, turning a blind eye to gender discrimination, insufficient coordination on security issues, and silence those who seek to correct their mistakes. This is not the world we should create on earth, nor is it our springboard to a better world.
At least, Bezos and other leaders of blue origin must take responsibility and learn how to run a respected and responsible company, and then they can be allowed to arbitrarily use their wealth and resulting power to draw a blueprint for the future of mankind. But beyond that, all of us should reflect on the question: as a society, should we allow people with high self-esteem, endless money and little sense of responsibility to shape the future? (reviewed by Tencent technology / Jinlu)