Jeff Bezos heads to India as Amazon faces regulatory probes, protests


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Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will face a wave of protests from small business owners when he travels to India this week.

Bezos will appear on stage Wednesday at Amazon’s Smbhav event for a fireside chat alongside Amit Agarwal, who heads Amazon’s India operations, according to Bloomberg. Smbhav is an annual event held by Amazon in New Delhi that’s aimed at helping the company connect with millions of small and medium-sized businesses in the country.

Bezos has also sought a meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and celebrities from the Bollywood movie industry, Bloomberg reported. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the details of Bezos’ visit.

Not everyone is expected to welcome Bezos when he touches down in India. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group that represents 70 million traders and 40,000 trade associations, is planning a “National Protest Day” on Wednesday. The group plans to host protests across 300 cities during Bezos’ visit.

The CAIT claims Amazon is hurting small businesses by using heavy discounts to lure shoppers online and away from brick-and-mortar stores.

“If they could not empower existing retailers on their portal, why they are looking for more retailers?” Praveen Khandewal, CAIT secretary general, and B.C. Bhartia Nagpur, CAIT national president, said in a statement. “Amazon is trying to create false propaganda that it is the true friend of traders, though it is the worst enemy.”

It comes as Amazon faces additional roadblocks that threaten to upend its goal of expanding in India. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Monday launched a probe into whether Amazon and Walmart‘s Flipkart have violated competition laws by promoting “preferred sellers” on their platforms and offering deep discounts.

“Allegedly, there is an existence of various vertical arrangements between Flipkart with their preferred sellers on the platforms; and Amazon with their preferred sellers on the platforms, respectively which leads to a foreclosure of other nonpreferred sellers from the online marketplace,” the order states. “These preferred sellers are also alleged to be affiliated with or controlled by Flipkart/Amazon either directly or indirectly.”

A spokesperson from Amazon told CNBC in a statement: “We welcome the opportunity to address allegations made about Amazon; we are confident in our compliance, and will cooperate fully with CCI.”

A representative from Flipkart said the company is reviewing the CCI notice, but that it’s “fully compliant” with India’s competition laws.

“We take pride in democratizing e-commerce in India and giving market access to [hundreds of thousands] of [micro businesses], sellers, artisans and small businesses, making quality and affordable goods available to consumers through our transparent and efficient marketplace while creating lakhs of jobs,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon and Flipkart were forced to alter their operations in the country after India enacted new e-commerce rules in December 2018. The rules prevent foreign-owned e-commerce companies like Amazon from selling products through affiliated companies they own a significant stake in, or from offering special discounts and exclusive deals in the country. Amazon pulled an estimated 400,000 items from its shelves as a result of the new rules, while Flipkart removed thousands of products from its platform, according to The New York Times.

Amazon and Flipkart have become fierce rivals in India, which is poised to become one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the world. Amazon has poured more than $5 billion into its India business, went on a hiring spree in the country last year and announced a partnership with India’s Future Retail earlier this month. Walmart in 2018 paid $16 billion to acquire Flipkart.



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