India’s small merchants take on Amazon with protest meeting

The summit is the latest protest by local traders, which have long accused global retailers Amazon and rival Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart of masquerading as platforms and employing unfair practices that hit at the livelihoods of small online and offline sellers

Saritha Rai (with inputs from Bloomberg)
First Published14 Apr 2021
Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Hundreds of thousands of small Indian businesses are planning to protest against large foreign retailers like Amazon.com Inc. in an event on Thursday that coincides with the US e-commerce giant’s annual seller jamboree in the South Asian nation, a sign of escalating tensions in the retail market of 1.3 billion people.

The summit is the latest protest by local traders, which have long accused global retailers Amazon and rival Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart of masquerading as platforms and employing unfair practices that hit at the livelihoods of small online and offline sellers. The trader groups’ event is named Asmbhav, or “impossible” in Hindi, and takes place on the first day of Amazon’s annual seller extravaganza, called Smbhav, or “possible.”

“Over half-a-million sellers and leading small trader groups are participating in the Asmbhav event which will focus on ruined livelihoods because of the bullying and partisanship by e-commerce marketplaces,” said Abhay Raj Mishra of the non-profit Public Response Against Helplessness and Action for Redressal (PRAHAR), one of the organizers of the event spearheaded by a collective of Indian sellers.

India’s small traders, distributors and merchants have petitioned the country’s courts and antitrust regulator to curb the foreign retailing giants ahead of a potential revision of foreign investment rules. The government is expected to tighten regulations that already bar e-commerce platforms from owning or controlling companies that sell on their platform, forging exclusive deals with makers of products such as smartphones, and discounting goods sold on their platforms.

Amazon’s seller event -- which made its debut last year with founder Jeff Bezos in attendance -- will span four days this year and be held virtually. Key business figures including former Pepsico Inc. Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi, telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s Chairman Sunil Mittal, India’s chief economic adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian and Infosys Ltd. co-founder and Chairman Nandan Nilekani will be among panel speakers. Participants will include small businesses, startups, developers and retailers.

To counter Amazon’s Smbhav awards to select sellers, organizers of the protest event will hand out tongue-in-cheek “Asmbhav awards” to Bezos, country chief Amit Agarwal and its India business partner, Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys. The event is backed by trade groups like the All India Online Vendors Association and the All-India Mobile Retailers Association.

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