According to people familiar with the situation, Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos received France’s highest honour last Thursday at a private ceremony hosted by President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace. Macron, who has been promoting the country’s tech industry, personally presented the Legion of Honor award to the world’s third-richest person, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the event was private. Lauren Sanchez, Bezos’s girlfriend, captioned a photo of the couple with the Eiffel Tower in the background, “The most magical day celebrating you surrounded by friends and family,” on Sunday.
Amazon representatives declined to comment. The French presidency has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Le Point was the first to break the story. The Legion of Honor, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is a rare distinction for a foreigner and is not always made public when bestowed upon a non-French citizen.
It may be given to outsiders who have rendered “cultural or economic services to France or promoted causes that it defends,” according to the Legion of Honor office’s website. Some on the left criticised Macron for bestowing the honour on the billionaire on the same day as nationwide protests against the government’s pension reform plan.
Amazon, which employs approximately 15,000 people in France, has also been the subject of labour unrest on occasion. Last year, unions staged Black Friday strikes and protests at 18 Amazon warehouses in France and Germany. At the same time, campaigners had blocked some of the company’s plans to build new warehouses in the country on ecological, economic, and political grounds. Bezos was formally awarded the Legion of Honor by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy over a decade ago but had never received it in person, according to the sources.
At an event at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Macron touted the French government’s efforts to encourage the tech industry earlier this week.
This includes approximately €11 billion in public funds aimed at funding innovative fields such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology, as well as another €5 billion planned for the second phase of his “France 2030” programme. Bezos, 59, joins Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer in receiving the award in 2017 and 2011, respectively. Gates and his now ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, were honoured for their work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Among previous foreign recipients have been musicians Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.
Bezos, who stepped down as CEO of Amazon in 2021 but remained chairman, encountered Macron in 2020 to debate sustainability efforts and his Bezos Earth Fund.