Investing in Space

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is a 'toxic' workplace, some current and ex-workers claim in essay

Key Points
  • Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin is described as a "toxic" workplace, according to an essay by 21 current and former employees.
  • The essay claims that the company pushes workers to sign strict nondisclosure agreements, stifles internal feedback, disregards safety concerns, and creates a sexist environment for women.
  • Blue Origin responded that it "has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind" and "promptly" investigates claims of misconduct.
Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Twenty-one current and former employees of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin claim the space company is a "toxic" workplace, according to an essay posted Thursday.

Led by former Blue Origin head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams, the essay claims that the company pushes workers to sign strict nondisclosure agreements, stifles internal feedback, disregards safety concerns, and creates a sexist environment for women. It also gave examples of alleged sexual harassment.

"I've gotten far enough away from it that I'm not afraid enough to let them silence me anymore," Abrams said in a CBS interview that aired Thursday.

The essay was published Thursday on the Lioness website. It was signed by Abrams and said it was endorsed by 20 other current and former employees whose names were not listed.

In a response to CNBC's request for comment, Blue Origin vice president of communications Linda Mills said Abrams was "dismissed for cause" in 2019 "after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations."

Responding to Blue Origin, Abrams told CNBC in a statement that she "never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues involving federal export control regulations."

Abrams acknowledged in the CBS interview that she was fired by Blue Origin. She told "CBS Mornings" she was "shocked" when she was fired but was told by her manager that "Bob and I can't trust you anymore," referring to CEO Bob Smith. According to her LinkedIn account, she now works in employee communications for a large software company.

Alleged sexism and harassment

The essay said that "workforce gender gaps are common in the space industry" but claimed that "at Blue Origin they also manifest in a particular brand of sexism."

It gave two examples from senior leadership. It alleged that a "senior executive in CEO Bob Smith's loyal inner circle" was repeatedly reported to the company's human resources team about sexual harassment claims. Despite the claims, the essay said, Smith made the executive a member of Blue Origin's hiring committee when the company was filling a senior human resources role.

In the second example, a former executive allegedly was demeaning toward women, "calling them 'baby girl,' 'baby doll,' or 'sweetheart' and inquiring about their dating lives." The essay claims Blue Origin would warn new female hires to stay away from the executive, who allegedly had a "close personal relationship with Bezos."

"It took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go," the essay alleges.

Mills, in her statement, said that "Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind."

"We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct," Mills added.

Blue Origin's headquarters in Kent, Washington.
Blue Origin

Blue Origin also intensified the use of strict nondisclosure agreements, the essay says, pushing all employees to sign new contracts with a nondisparagement clause in 2019. The company's work culture has "taken a toll on the mental health" of "many" people, the current and former employees claimed. The letter cited a senior program leader with decades in the aerospace and defense industry who claimed that "working at Blue Origin was the worst experience of her life."

FAA reviewing safety allegations

Safety concerns are another key piece of the essay, which alleges that "some of the engineers who ensure the very safety of the rockets" were either forced out or paid off after internally voicing criticisms.

The essay said that last year, Blue Origin leadership showed "increasing impatience" with the low flight rate of its suborbital New Shepard rocket, saying the company's team needed to jump from "a few flights per year … to more than 40."

"When Jeff Bezos flew to space this July, we did not share his elation. Instead, many of us watched with an overwhelming sense of unease. Some of us couldn't bear to watch at all," the essay said. "Competing with other billionaires—and 'making progress for Jeff'— seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule."

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to CNBC on Thursday that it is reviewing the safety concerns raised within the essay.

"The FAA takes every safety allegation seriously," the regulator said in a statement.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on historic launch: First step to build road to space
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on historic space launch

The essay contends that environmental concerns were an afterthought at the company, with impacts on local ecology and required permits considered after "the machinery showed up" at Blue Origin's factory in Kent, Washington.

Additionally, Blue Origin's headquarters in Kent – which opened last year – is not a LEED-certified building, according to the essay, claiming that it "was built on wetlands that were drained for construction."

The statement to CNBC from Blue Origin's Mills did not respond to these other issues.

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