In August 2020, the Reddit forum r/AnywhereButAmazon was created with the
description: “Amazon is convenient, but they’re not the most ethical company. Join us to find better alternatives.”  The discussion page quickly filled up with people asking for recommendations on other places to shop and posting news articles about Amazon’s unethical practices. The tech giant copies popular products and sells them at a loss to run competitors out of business and eventually buy their companies , fights against unions of workers who can barely survive on their current wages , requires drivers to deliver more than 250 packages a day to keep shipping time minimal , and employs many more tactics aimed to increase profits at all costs. If Amazon’s unethical practices are relatively common knowledge, why do so many people still choose to work for the company?
Why do people want to work for a prestigious company?
To some readers, especially Vanderbilt students, the answer to this question may be blatantly obvious: success. Or if not success, then one of the products of success, such as recognition, power, comfort, or financial stability. An internship or job at such a reputable tech company ensures a stable career path for life, a boosted reputation, and a high salary.
Vanderbilt University is one of the best universities in the country, and the students that attend are among the most intelligent and ambitious students in the nation. We were accepted into this prestigious university because we toiled for hours in high school. Now that we achieved our goal, we must vindicate our success through a new goal: landing an impressive internship or job. We add more majors and minors, join more student organizations, and commit to more leadership positions.
After landing the perfect job, what comes next? We want a promotion, a higher salary, or an even better job. No amount of success will ever be enough; there will always be something more to achieve. But when success is the main goal, when hours of tedious labor have finally yielded impressive results, the reality that one’s work directly contributes to the profits of an incredibly harmful company falls to the back of the mind.
Why are these prestigious companies often unethical? The well-known answer: they exist to make money and benefit themselves instead of existing to serve the world around them. If the main goal of the Amazon website was to give users and companies a platform to buy and sell products, then the company wouldn’t try to run competitors out of business. Instead, Amazon would support the sellers and give the companies space to grow. However, every company and every employee has room for improvement. Even companies that implement CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives to try to create a positive social and economic impact will still have unethical practices.
Is it wrong to work for a company that engages in unethical practices?
A common response to this question is to avoid working for a company with obvious ethical flaws. It seems better to reject an Amazon offer to work for a more ethical company like a nonprofit. However, just as some companies that engage in unethical practices can change for the better, other companies that appear altruistic can have flaws. For example, after the huge earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars to help build new homes. The organization claimed to have built homes for more than 130,000 people, but further investigation revealed that the Red Cross has only built six new homes in the entire country .
All companies engage in unethical practices to some degree. Despite this, for those who want to work for a “more ethical” company, a common trap that people unknowingly fall into is using morality to cover up underlying selfish desires. Many people’s upright motives can be deeply intermixed with either the desire to be respected or to avoid the guilt of working a “less ethical” job. For example, in the Marvel movie Doctor Strange, Dr. Stephen Strange is a famous neurosurgeon who is incredibly talented at his job. He tells his friend, “I became a doctor to save lives.” And she responds, “You became a doctor to save one life above all others: your own.”  Even though many people aim to do good, many fall into the same trap as Dr. Strange, believing in one’s personal goodness by hiding selfish motives behind selfless ones.
So is some work more meaningful than other work?
If success and prestige are imperfect goals, and even the most morally upright company has flaws, then how does one choose what work to do when these approaches fall short of ideal? Christianity offers a different approach.
Christians believe that God is the Creator of the universe, and because He is good,
everything He created in the beginning was good . God created us and designed us to work, so everything we create – i.e. our work – has meaning and goodness.8 God created an undeveloped world because He delights in us when we create and develop through our work . Lawyers are meaningful because they advocate for justice and due process, and waiters are meaningful because they bring joy to their customers through service. The meaning of our work is found in the nature of our work; if the world had remained perfect like how God intended it to be, then all our work would be perfect and good.
However, when the first humans disobeyed God, everything in the world became tainted with corruption. Work used to be easy in the perfect world, but now it has become difficult and strenuous . And because we are corrupted, our work is no longer perfectly good. Some companies or workers are more clearly imperfect than others, but even the most morally upright person or organization has room for improvement. Amazon and Jeff Bezos can do better, but so can nonprofits and hospitals.
Because God intended for the world to be perfect, the goal of work is to make the world more like how it was intended to be. Pastor and theologian Timothy Keller put it like this:
“Through our work we bring order out of chaos, create new entities, exploit the patterns of creation, and interweave the human community. So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or painting a picture, our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way, we connect our work to God’s work.” 
The meaning of one’s work is not found in what one perceives as the most meaningful and good work to do. Understanding the most meaningful work one can do requires understanding how God designed the perfect world and the ones who live in it.
How should I choose my work?
Christians believe that God created humans, including each of our strengths and
weaknesses, our likes and our dislikes; these characteristics point to the work that God designed each of us to do. For example, someone who excels at analytical thinking but struggles with imaginative thinking would be better suited for a data analyst job instead of a creative writing job. Many Vanderbilt students who naturally gravitate towards jobs that are not lucrative or that our culture considers unimpressive will be tempted to choose a career path that doesn’t quite align with their strengths. Even those who genuinely wish to honor God through their work may think it is better to do Christian work or social work over anything else.
God created each of us with a unique set of gifts so we can all contribute to the world in a different capacity. The Bible explains that the collection of all Christians forms a single body with many members: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Just as our body needs two hands and two feet instead of many hands and zero feet, the world needs busboys and cashiers and stay-at-home parents as much as it needs doctors and lawyers and engineers.
The most meaningful work you can do is not what will give you money or comfort or respect and not even what you think will most benefit the world. All work can be important and meaningful, and all work has been corrupted by evil. The best way to honor God through your work is to do the work that God has given to you in whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Work joyfully and to the best of your ability, and the Bible promises that your work will not be in vain .
- “Anywhere But Amazon,” Reddit, accessed April 18, 2022,
- Dana Mattioli, “How Amazon Wins: By Steamrolling Rivals and Partners,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec 22, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-competition-shopify-wayfair-allbirds-antitrust-11608235127/.
- “The resurgence of unions and the fight against Amazon,” CBS News, April 24, 2022. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-resurgence-of-unions-amazon-and-jfk8/.
- Caroline O’Donovan and Ken Bensinger, “Amazon’s Next-Day Delivery Has Brought Chaos And Carnage To America’s Streets – But The World’s Biggest Retailer Has A System To Escape The Blame,” Buzzfeed News, August 31, 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/carolineodonovan/amazon-next-day-delivery-deaths.
- Justin Elliott and Laura Sullivan, “How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes,” ProPublica, June 3, 2015. https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-red-cross-raised-half-a-billion-dollars-for-haiti-and-built-6-homes.
- Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson (Marvel Studios, 2016), 1:14:29. https://www.disneyplus.com/movies/marvel-studios-doctor-strange/4GgMJ1aHKHA2.
- Genesis 1:1-2:3.
- Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), 35.
- Ibid, 22-23.
- Genesis 3:17-39.
- Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 50.
- Romans 12:4-5 (NIV).
- Colossians 3:23.