Illustration: Kelsey Niziolek

Unraveling the Secret Origins of an AmazonBasics Battery

One of Amazon’s smallest and most popular products has a surprisingly large footprint

Sarah Emerson
Published in
12 min readOct 30, 2019

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II heard the “pop!” from my living room as a brand-new pack of Amazon batteries spontaneously exploded on the kitchen counter, oozing a gritty black substance in fits and spurts. The small, unassuming item is one of Amazon’s most popular “in-house” products sold under the AmazonBasics label. With nearly 20,000 customer reviews, its popularity dwarfs that of most other AmazonBasics items, which include electronics, homewares, and random odds and ends.

The batteries are also highly rated — had I received a defective set? I scoured the comments page for the alkaline battery for reviews containing the word “explode,” revealing dozens of experiences like mine. One person said the batteries had burst in their wife’s breast pump. Others had toys and appliances ruined by leaky fluid. Some customers blamed this on alleged Chinese manufacturing, but Amazon vaguely claims in the product’s description that they are “made in Indonesia using Japanese technology.”

Over the past month, I have tried to uncover the hidden life cycle of this simple AmazonBasics battery. Amazon is fiercely secretive about its corporate footprint and masks its operations through a discreet network of outsourcing, making its supply chain hard to unravel. Its AA battery is no different. The product is indeed made in Indonesia, but not by Amazon, I learned. The company buys the batteries from a supplier and reskins them as its own, much like Trader Joe’s and its eponymous food brand. Amazon has never voluntarily divulged the sources of AmazonBasics items, but it confirmed OneZero’s reporting on where its AA batteries come from.

Faster, cheaper delivery always comes at a cost — to humans and the environment.

Though I discovered where the batteries were made, I was unable to locate the source of their materials, for example. The difficulty in understanding the supply chain of even a simple component shows how Amazon’s operations are deliberately designed to be a black box. This secrecy allows the commercial titan to be ruthlessly competitive, delivering cheaper items faster than…

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Sarah Emerson
OneZero

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE