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Amazon warehouses could be ‘hotspots for infection’ this Black Friday, Amnesty warns

AMAZON has been accused of putting workers’ lives at risk on Black Friday, with Amnesty International warning that the online shopping giant’s warehouses could become “hotspots for infection.”

A report published today by the human rights group alleges that aggressive productivity targets have been reimposed despite serious Covid-19 risks, with this pressure coinciding with threats to union representatives who are trying to organise the workers effectively.

Entitled Amazon, Let Workers Unionise, the report documents the treatment of Amazon staff in Britain, France, Poland and the United States. 

Amnesty found that the company has undermined attempts by workers to unionise and collectively negotiate, using threats of legal action in Britain and surveillance in the US.

Amazon claims to respect employees’ rights to join or form a trade union, but it has repeatedly undermined unions’ ability to operate and described the existence of organised labour as a “risk factor.”

GMB staff have repeatedly been threatened with injunctions for “trespassing” when trying to access Amazon facilities to recruit members.

Legal notices from last year and 2018 also show that Amazon monitors the social media posts of union members, with attachments featuring profile screenshots.

Amnesty’s Barbora Cernusakova said it was “alarming” that attempts to unionise have been treated with such hostility, adding that the company “should know better.”

“We are urging the company to respect the human rights of its workers and comply with international labour standards, which state clearly that workers have a right to unionise,” she said.

“Amazon must refrain from breaching its workers’ rights to privacy and stop treating union activity as a threat.” 

In March, Amazon suspended its aggressive productivity targets, including a requirement for workers to pick and pack around 300 items an hour, with employees working up to 55 hours a week and 10-hour days, especially over the peak Christmas period.

Now, as the festive season approaches, Amazon has told workers that these targets are to return. 

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “Despite known outbreaks of Covid-19, workers are being pressured and frightened into going into work in unsafe conditions and unions are being intimidated and prevented from helping.

“It is time Amazon realised that the consumer-friendly image it presents to the world is out of kilter with its appalling treatment of workers and with what its customers would expect from any responsible company.”

Amazon was approached for comment.

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