Trade unions lobby Amazon shareholders over UK working conditions

21 May 2019

Amazon Prime cardboard box. Image: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Trade unions in the UK have made a presentation to Amazon shareholders imploring them to act amid reports of unsafe working conditions and lack of action on sexual harassment.

UK trade unions have lobbied Amazon investors to push for better working conditions in warehouses.

The GMB, a general trade union in the UK, reportedly made presentations at the head office of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to fund managers and pensions with a stake in the tech behemoth, including Legal & General, Baillie Gifford and Aberdeen Standard.

The GMB told shareholders about the various allegations levelled against the company over how it treats its workers. Workers, GMB explained, worked long shifts and faced immense pressure to hit targets for items picked, leading to injuries.

A warehouse worker also appeared in front of investors to beseech them to act, alleging that working conditions were unsafe and that managers frequently dismissed and ignored employee concerns. The worker also alleged a lack of action from the company amid sexual harassment complaints.

“We are in a volatile climate and Amazon is vulnerable on so many different angles,” said GMB national officer Neil Foster to the meeting. “We want to work with Amazon and we think investors have a place in that conversation.”

Union representatives argued that Amazon’s bad reputation as an employer will eventually hurt the company from a revenue perspective as the public grows increasingly aware – and intolerant – of shady working practices from large corporations.

Amazon vehemently denied the allegations and claimed that workers are on a typical 40-hour work week schedule with “comprehensive benefits” and opportunities for career growth.

Investors responded by saying they took the allegations seriously, with some pledging to raise the issue with Amazon and bandying about suggestions for how to instigate change, such as by voting against individual directors.

“Our aim was to introduce investors to working life at Amazon and enable them to hear for the first time from an Amazon worker about the reality of working at Amazon,” said Janet Williamson, chair of Tuso. “We will keep investors up to date with Amazon’s working practices in the UK and elsewhere, and ask investors to raise these points with the company.”

Amazon was pilloried in the press and by customers when reports emerged last year that an ambulance had been called to its UK warehouses 600 times over three years. The details came to light after the GMB union made a freedom-of-information request to ambulance services.

The issues are not, according to workers, limited to UK warehouses. Amazon employees in the UK and Europe have described conditions as “brutal”, citing frequent workplace injuries and fear of taking time off.

The internet giant has made concerted efforts to prevent unions from forming within the company, such as by sending a 45-minute video to team leaders providing union-busting instructions, as Gizmodo reported last year.

“We are not anti-union, but we are not neutral either,” the video explains, going on to say that unions are not in the best interests of customers because the company’s business model was built upon “speed, innovation and customer obsession – things that are generally not associated with union”.

Amazon Prime cardboard box. Image: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic