How warehouse staff strikes and boycotts marred Amazon Prime Day

17 Jul 2018

Image: angelo gilardelli/Shutterstock

The Prime Day sale is traditionally a massive win for Amazon, but unhappy workers, customer boycotts and a site outage made this year’s a little different.

Monday (16 July) marked the beginning of Prime Day (which actually lasts 36 hours), one of the biggest promotional campaigns Amazon runs throughout the entire year.

Styled as its own Black Friday, subscribers to Amazon Prime can take advantage of some major deals on gadgets, books and other offers on the site.

Amazon Prime Day not without controversy

While Prime Day kicked off, nearly 1,800 Amazon staff in Spain began a three-day strike action while Polish staff in an Amazon facility began staging a work-to-rule. An Italian workers’ union, Fisacat, also supported the Spanish strikers on social media.

Approximately 96pc of workers at the company’s San Fernando warehouse outside Madrid are on strike, but Amazon disputes these figures from labour organisers. Specific issues include an increase in working hours, elimination of bonuses and lack of protection against illnesses.

Now, Reuters reports that thousands more workers will walk off the job at warehouses in Germany to demand better working conditions in an act of solidarity with their other European counterparts. The one-day strike in Germany was called by the Verdi services union to back its demands for contractual guarantees around healthy working conditions in Amazon fulfilment centres.

Verdi retail representative Stefanie Nutzenberger said: “The message is clear: while the online giant gets rich, it is saving money on the health of its workers.” Amazon said it only expects a small fraction of its German workers to join the strike and added that competitive pay and benefits are a part of the package for its fulfilment centre staff.

Critics would say that long-term benefits are one thing, but the apparently poor day-to-day working conditions should not have to be endured to access these perks.

US consumers protest sale of Nazi memorabilia

According to The Washington Post, advocacy groups in the US have been planning consumer rallies outside Amazon-owned Whole Foods locations to protest the sale of Nazi and other white nationalist goods on Amazon’s third-party marketplace platform.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy said: “The goal of #PrimeDayofAction is to raise awareness about the harmful practices of the nation’s largest online retailer and to ask: is there anything Amazon won’t do for a dollar?”

Prime Day has only been around for the past four years and now brings in billions in sales for the company. As the sale kicked off on Monday, Amazon’s app and website almost immediately went down for approximately 45 minutes.

An ongoing PR problem

Stories of poor working conditions for Amazon workers have been circulating for some time now. In April, The Intercept reported that new data showed one in three of Amazon’s Arizona employees depended on federal anti-poverty programme SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, that figure rests at about one in 10.

Journalist James Bloodworth, who went undercover as an Amazon worker, reported that staff in a warehouse in Staffordshire, England, used bottles instead of the toilet for fear of being disciplined for wasting time. 55pc of employees surveyed said that they had suffered from depression since working for the firm.

Amazon said: “We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don’t recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.”

As CEO Jeff Bezos became the richest man in modern history for a brief moment yesterday, critics of the company recalled his assertion in an April interview that the best way to spend his considerable fortune was on his space company Blue Origin.

While the strikes may not have a massive difference on the overall profits made by Amazon during Prime Day, they have once again shone the spotlight on allegations of poor conditions for the workers upholding the largest e-commerce platform on the planet.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects