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USA | Blue Origin Rocket Factory in Cape Canaveral
A letter by former Communications Director Alexandra Abrams and 20 unnamed current and former employees highlighted inappropriate practices in the workplaceImage: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Bezos' Blue Origin ethics in question as FAA investigates

Jon Shelton
October 1, 2021

The FAA review was sparked by a letter in which employees cite a pattern of prioritizing speed and cost-cutting over quality. Moreover, it describes a toxic work environment that is rife with sexism.

https://p.dw.com/p/417JR

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday that it would review Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin over safety concerns brought to its attention by company employees.

The review was sparked by a letter composed by former Blue Origin Communications Director Alexandra Abrams and 20 unnamed current and former employees.

The letter issued a stark warning about the company's advertised mission of wanting to enable a better future for mankind by exploiting space. It claims that Bezos' sales pitch for a Utopian future for humanity is based on a corporate present that is toxic to the core.

The FAA — the nation's top air safety regulator — says it "takes every safety allegation seriously and the agency is reviewing the information."

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Abrams describes several disturbing aspects of the company, mainly centered around the White male dominated inner circle that runs operations. The letter cites sexist behavior and hiring practices, as well as an exploitative labor system in which those close to Bezos stifle dissent and coerce hopelessly overworked or dissatisfied employees into silence through firings and ever more punitive non-disparagement agreements.

Allegations range from systemic sexually inappropriate behavior, to mental and physical duress. The consistent prioritization of "making progress for Jeff" over addressing a myriad of safety concerns brought forward by employees is also highlighted. Moreover, the letter alleges that women are mercilessly badgered for raising concerns.

Abrams also claims she was instructed to make it difficult for employees to ask questions at company town hall meetings ostensibly designed as a forum for open discussion. She spoke of a "dehumanizing" work atmosphere in which "troublemakers or agitators" were singled out and put on lists given to senior managers as part of a broader system of control over workers.

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'Be careful with Jeff's money'

Decision making at Blue Origin, the letter claims, is limited to a select inner circle impatient to publicly display progress while ignoring the safety concerns of some engineers. Requests for more staff, she alleges, were regularly rebuffed, with managers and employees told to "be grateful" and to "be careful with Jeff's money."

Abrams' letter claims that the desire to beat billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson into space compromised safety. She continued by comparing the breakneck pace of launches and the safety issues that ensue, to those of NASA's doomed Challenger program, where seven astronauts lost their lives after safety was compromised by a desperation to launch.

Safety, according to the letter, is an afterthought at Blue Origin, both in regard to production and environment, as well as to vehicle flight systems.

The employees behind the letter pointed out the extremely limited scope of the FAA's mandate to regulate the space industry, arguing that it must be expanded.

The letter, published on storytelling platform lioness.co, a website which helps individuals bring their ordeals to the media, ended with another, much broader question, namely: "Should we as a society allow ego-driven individuals with endless caches of money and very little accountability to be the ones to shape that future?" 

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