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SPACE – In an open letter published on September 30, some twenty employees and ex-employees accuse Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin of allowing a “toxic” work environment to reign in which sexism and practices dangerous to the safety of flights are underway. A call for more controls by a third party authority has also been launched.
While most of the signatories wished to remain anonymous, the magazine Fortune was able to consult the forum before its publication and discuss with five of its signatories relaying fears of reprisals.
The culture of Blue Origin, which has nearly 3,600 employees, “ignores the state of our planet, looks away from sexism, is not sufficiently in tune with security challenges, and silences those who seek to correct these problems”, they thunder in the preamble.
Blue Origin “turns a blind eye to sexism”
The signatories thus list numerous inappropriate behaviors towards women. A senior manager, for example, was repeatedly reported to human resources for sexual harassment. Reports that did not prevent him from being promoted within the recruitment team.
The letter also denounces a “white” and “male” majority and further argues that “one hundred percent of senior technical and program managers are men”.
If the signatories claim that Blue Origin “turns a blind eye to sexism”, the company reacted on its side to the accusations, claiming to have “no tolerance for discrimination or harassment”, and pledging to “promptly investigate on any new allegations of misconduct”.
Blue Origin has also added to offer ″many possibilities for employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline. But the accusations made by the gallery are not limited to harassment and sexism.
Many signatory employees would not “board a Blue Origin ship”, says this forum, denouncing a lack of personnel, resources, and extreme pressure to reduce costs and deadlines.
“Competition with other billionaires (…) took precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the schedule,” wrote the former employees, quoting in particular the Briton Richard Branson, founder of the rival company Virgin Galactic.
Blue Origin managers are encouraged to “push employees to their limits”, which is why some of them have had “suicidal thoughts”, the text argues. In 2019, staff had to sign contracts committing them not to publicly disparage the company, the open letter recalls.
“We should not wait for the loss of human life to look into what is happening behind the doors of private space companies,” they add. “The time has come – now that the public is coming on board – to allow independent oversight.”
The US Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Thursday it “takes all safety allegations seriously” and is “analyzing the information”. But the agency limits itself, for private space flights, to ensuring that a collision does not occur with an airliner, or that debris does not fall to the ground, recalls the text.
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Disregard for environmental issues
The advent of space tourism and its impact on the climate crisis also raise questions for the signatories. While the founder of Amazon tries to look good, how in 2020, by launching a fund of 10 billion dollars to fight against global warming, the reality is quite different according to the forum.
Thus, environmental concerns would “never have been a priority at Blue Origin”, denounces the text. The company’s new headquarters, built in 2020, “is not a LEED-certified building and was built on wetlands that were drained for construction.”
The company proclaims “it will build a better world because we are on track to ruin this one”. But the panel’s signatories lament that none of them have “seen Blue Origin establishing concrete plans to become carbon neutral or significantly reduce its large environmental footprint”.
After transporting its first four passengers, including Jeff Bezos, to space in July, a second manned flight is planned by Blue Origin for October 12.
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