Amazon has been frequently criticised for breaching the labour rights of its employees. A new survey has added fuel to the fire, by shining a light on the negative physical and mental health of its employees.
Respondents in the survey included over 2,000 Amazon workers across eight countries. It was carried out by UNI Global Union, a worker's rights organisation.
Over half of the respondents (51%) stated that Amazon monitors their productivity in the workplace and that this was having an adverse effect on their physical health. Meanwhile, 57% said that the company's monitoring practices have negative repercussions on their mental health, although this number varied across countries.
"Today I received a write-up for – unaccounted for idle time – due to my IBS," said one US warehouse worker in the survey with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which requires frequent restroom breaks. "I’m constantly harassed over missing work or restroom breaks due to my illness."
Poor working conditions
Amazon employs more than 1.6 million employees worldwide and is the fifth-largest employer globally. It also comes fifth globally as one of the most valuable companies around the world, with a market capitalisation of close to almost $1 trillion.
Despite making its CEO Jeff Bezos the now fourth-richest man in the world, it is far from the first time Amazon has come under fire for not treating its workers well.
Most recently, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday fined Amazon $60,000 for failing to provide a workplace free from workplace hazards such as physical harm to its workers.
Going further back, a Guardian investigation in 2019 revealed that Amazon left its workers to suffer after they sustained workplace injuries. The company has also faced a federal lawsuit for violating US labour laws after abruptly firing a worker who advocated for better working conditions – which included paid leave.
Atmosphere of fear
Productivity trumps safety at Amazon, with the survey detailing how pre-existing health conditions were only worsened while working at Amazon.
Amazon place unrealistic expectations on them, employees say, adding that the company would decrease the number of workers yet demand higher production.
Workers are continuously monitored through their handheld scanners and ID card swipes – for example breaks are monitored from the moment workers scans their last item until they start again.
Most warehouses are defined by an atmosphere of fear, which goes well beyond the pressure on productivity expectations, excessive monitoring and the fear of losing their jobs. The fear was "of the kind one might expect from subjects if a police state." Many described their experiences as "dystopian" and referred to the image of Big Brother, according to the report.
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The words workers globally used to express their experiences at Amazon were "stressed, pressured, anxious, like a robot, untrusted, just a number."
Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly challenged the survey's methodology in a statement. "This online poll was financed and managed by union groups perpetuating false information to satisfy their own narratives," he said, according to Time.