Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man and is also only the second man ever to amass a 12-figure fortune (that’s $100,000,000,000 for those keeping score at home).
And today, an expose from the Sun provided the latest glimpse into Amazon’s long history of allegations of employee abuse as the company seeks to wring out every second of efficiency from its warehouse employees (and employees at its corporate headquarters, too, if an expose by the New York Times published a few years back is to be believed).
Coming nearly six years after the Seattle Times dropped its blockbuster report about the borderline inhumane treatment that workers at some of Amazon’s fulfillment centers in the US received at the hands of the e-commerce giant, the Sun, a UK tabloid, is reporting that workers at the company’s UK fulfillment centers are facing similarly adverse treatment.
In fact, the staff at one fulfillment center in Manchester are reportedly so afraid of getting in trouble for spending too much time away from the job that some have resorted to peeing in bottles because toilets are several hundred yards away.
The warehouse measures 700,000 sq ft and some of the 1,200 workers face a ten minute, quarter-of-a-mile walk to two toilets on the ground floor of the four-storey building.
Undercover investigator James Bloodworth said: “For those of us who worked on the top floor, the closest toilets were down four flights of stairs.”
Mr Bloodworth, who worked ten-hour shifts as a picker selecting goods for despatch, walked ten miles a day in the job to research for a book on low-wage Britain.
He claimed workers were continually monitored for time wasting by supervisors.
It meant workers operated a “toilet bottle” system.
Mr Bloodworth said: “People just peed in bottles because they lived in fear of being disciplined over ‘idle time’ and losing their jobs just because they needed the loo.”
The warehouse in Rugeley, Staffs, is like a prison with airport-style security scanners where workers are constantly monitored and patted down when they exit the facility to stop them from stealing.
Wearing hoodies and sunglasses are banned along with using mobile phones – something the company calls a security measure.
Unsurprisingly, an Amazon spokesperson denied the claims.
“Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working.”
“Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one.”
“We have a focus on ensuring we provide a great environment for all our employees and last month Amazon was named by LinkedIn as the 7th most sought after place to work in the UK and ranked first place in the US.”
As Business Insider Australia reminds us, Amazon is known to track how fast its warehouse workers can pick and package items from its shelves, imposing strictly timed breaks and targets. It frequently issues warnings to those who don’t meet its goals, or who take extended breaks. So imagining that some employees are afraid to take breaks to use the toilet isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility.
A survey cited by BI showed almost three-quarters of UK fulfillment-center staff members were afraid of using the toilet because of time concerns. A report released Monday with the survey’s findings said 241 Amazon warehouse employees in England were interviewed.
The news dropped shortly before reports surfaced that Amazon would be abandoning a plan to sell and distribute pharmaceuticals.
Anyway, workers at Amazon fulfillment centers need not worry about their mistreatment for much longer: By 2030, it looks like robots will be doing most of those jobs, anyway.
So maybe they should just appreciate the fact that they’re still gainfully employed while it lasts.