Amazon investors told to press for better working conditions

amazon working conditions
Staff working at Amazon's Peterborough fulfilment centre.
Image: Aaron Chown/PA Archive/PA Images

Investors have been urged to put pressure on Amazon to improve working conditions at its UK warehouses, following reports that staff are forced to work long hours to meet gruelling targets.

The GMB union told investors that they have a key role in improving working conditions for the online retail giant’s 27,500 workers in the UK. Among the tactics discussed at a meeting of its investors, the GMB Union, the TUC and Amazon worker representatives included voting against director appointments, according to a Guardian report.

At the meeting earlier this month, an Amazon worker claimed working conditions at its warehouses were unsafe and warehouse managers did little to address staff concerns, which included sexual harassment allegations. Amazon has refuted the claims.

One institutional investor familiar with the meeting told the Guardian: “Company culture and human capital management are coming up more frequently in discussions with companies. We see it as a reputation issue.

“A company needs to be attractive for people to want to work there and to stay there and also to attract and retain customers, and we have seen huge backlashes against companies where customers have voted with their feet.”

Working conditions

The GMB union has long been critical of the working conditions that some Amazon warehouse staff claimed they had experienced. It is running a petition calling for Amazon to “treat their workers like humans, not robots”, which has received more than 1,000 signatures.

Last November, union members at five Amazon warehouses  staged protests over “inhumane” working conditions. At the time, GMB general secretary Tim Roache claimed staff were “breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances”.

Amazon said in a statement: “These allegations are false and unsubstantiated. Amazon already offers industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits and career growth opportunities, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. But you don’t have to take our word for it – anyone can come and see for themselves by booking a tour of a fulfilment centre online.”

Employment rights bill

Earlier this month work and pensions committee chair Frank Field called for a new employment rights bill to protect staff working in “appalling conditions”, after figures obtained by the Press Association revealed that some warehouses operated for retailers including JD Sports and Asos called ambulances for staff at a rate of almost once a week.

However, Vanessa James, an employment lawyer at Ashfords, said the working conditions that unions and staff often claimed existed in warehouses – such as limited toilet breaks and unfair targets – would be difficult to ban completely.

“There are things that you can make unlawful and there are things that are difficult to legislate around,” she said. “But there are areas the government has improved conditions for low-paid workers: for example holiday pay, statutory sick pay entitlements.”

James also warned against taking ambulance call out figures at face value, as they could have been made for “any number of reasons”.

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