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29 November 2018

On 21 and 22 November the second meeting of the UNI Global Amazon Network took place in London

treated like a robot

On 21 and 22 November the second meeting of the Amazon Global Alliance took place in London. It was organised by UNI Commerce in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and focused on the issue of
‘Codetermination and labour standards in transnational companies – aspirations and reality @Amazon’. The meeting brought together 67 people from 17 countries and 3 continents (Europe, North America and Australia), including Amazon workers, trade union leaders from sectors including logistics, jobs and business, and researchers. The participants, who were meeting for the second time, had a joint slogan for Amazon: ‘We’re not robots’.

The participants in the meeting heard accounts from representatives from each of the countries about the situation of Amazon workers, particularly in terms of health, the challenges faced by trade unions on the ground and also their strategies. The testimony of the workers from all around the globe was quite similar. Amazon seems to apply the same labour standards and management style in every country, with slight variations based on national laws (e.g. regarding wages). The policy on working conditions is based on large-scale industrialisation of logistical work, with a high division of tasks that involve repetitive actions, a very high work rate, significant pressure from management and constant monitoring of workers through digital tools – which some call ‘management through fear’ – and the shortest possible breaks. These working conditions mean that all of its sites experience a large number of workplace accidents (and even deaths) and a very high turnover. In the United Kingdom, for example, a study by the union GMB revealed that there had been more than 600 ambulance call-outs to UK warehouses in just three years. In addition to that, there is widespread use of temporary workers with very insecure contracts, particularly during peak seasonal periods, and a great deal of pressure on workers not to join a union.

A US researcher, John Logan, presented the results of his research on Amazon’s openly and radically anti-union policy, which is particularly aggressive in the United States. He also highlighted the extremely high subsidies that Amazon receives in every country in which it is based, in addition to tax exemptions.

The second day was devoted to organising global cooperation among trade unions and workers on actions on the ground, bargainings and communication. A coordination group, comprising six people from the various trade unions and continents, was established. Several simultaneous actions were planned in different European countries (particularly Spain and the United Kingdom) for the Black Friday (23 November) in order to raise awareness of the united front established by the unions against Amazon.

‘We also know that in the world in which we live when we work together… we increase our power… we have a better chance of success’, stressed the President of UNI Commerce Global, Stuart Appelbaum, who introduced and concluded the two days. He also pointed to the gap between the good image Amazon portrays to its consumers – and even its workers – and the reality experienced by the people working in its warehouses: ‘Many people still think about Amazon in a positive light… They fail to recognize the very rear consequences of the company’s  ambition will have for workers and the world … We have not only the power but also the responsibility to educate each other, the workers, the public and the politiciens… to the true nature of Amazon and the really real threat its business model and its daily practices pose to all of us.’


read more:

  • Rapport GMB - What is like to work in a modern day Amazon Fulfilment Centre in the UK? 
  • HesaMag n° 6: Discounting the workers: Conditions in the retail sector
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