Over 20 current and former employees of Blue Origin, the aerospace business established by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, have written and released an open letter criticizing the company’s “toxic” workplace culture, spacecraft safety, and environmental policy. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote the scathing open letter, titled “Bezos Wants to Create a Better Future in Space,” On September 30, his company, Blue Origin, published on the platform Lioness with the article “His Company Blue Origin Is Stuck in a Toxic Past.” Signatories, including Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin employee relations, believe upper management so focused on winning the “billionaire space race” that they ignored safety procedures and failed to address systemic issues within the business culture.
The letter states, among other things, that Blue Origin is “rife with sexism” and that its senior officials are “known to be regularly inappropriate with women,” including several who have been reported to HR multiple times for sexual harassment. According to the letter, Blue Origin employs over 3,600 people, but all of the company’s senior technical and program leaders are men. They claim that as a result, a poisonous work climate has developed, with many senior executives having a “clear bias against women.”
“A former executive used to call ladies ‘baby girl,’ ‘baby doll,’ or sweetheart,’ and inquire about their dating lives in a condescending and degrading manner.” One-sentence states, “His inappropriate behavior was so widely known at the workplace that some women at the organization took to warning prospective female hires to stay away from him.” According to the letter, the executive was eventually fired after “physically touching a female subordinate.”
According to the letter, Blue Origin management requested that all staff sign new contracts in 2010 that included a non-disparagement clause that would ban them from expressing anything that would “damage the company’s goodwill.” Employees’ rights to litigate employment conflicts in court or publicly speak out about workplace harassment, according to the signatories, are essentially waived.
The letter also raises safety concerns regarding Blue Origin’s spacecraft, in addition to charges of widespread misogyny. They claim that higher management grew impatient with the New Shepard test flight schedule, the company’s high-profile “space tourist” rocket system that launched Bezos into space in July of this year. According to the letter, personnel pressured to increase the number of flights to more than 40 per year, which many believed would jeopardize flight safety.
“We’ve noticed a trend of decision-making that frequently prioritizes execution speed and cost savings over proper staffing to ensure quality,” the letter states. “Today, Blue Origin is selling rocket seats, claiming that “safety is their primary priority,” despite the reality that there are few laws in place to assure that this is true.”
“The FAA takes any safety allegation seriously, and the agency is investigating the evidence,” said a representative for the US Federal Aviation Administration, which monitors launch safety. In addition, the letter raises environmental concerns, stating that Blue Origin does not appear to have “any concrete intentions” to become carbon neutral or reduce its environmental footprint significantly.
Finally, the essay raises concerns about a society in which people who are incapable of running a respectable business are utilizing “their wealth and resulting power to build a blueprint for humanity’s destiny.”
“Should we, as a society, enable egotistical individuals with vast sums of money and little accountability to define that future?” With a final “Ad Astra” parting shot, the letter ends. “Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any type,” the company said in a statement in response to the open letter. We offer a variety of options for employees, including a 24-hour anonymous hotline, and we will investigate any new allegations of misbehavior as soon as possible. We are confident in our safety record, and New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever planned or built.”