In late February, Supply Chain Matters posted a commentary regarding the increased scrutiny being drawn toward global online fulfillment provider Amazon and its labor practices. We brought attention to a full page article published in The Financial Times describing the temporary labor practices in place at Amazon distribution centers in both Germany and Great Britain.  The FT article described how a global employment agency under contract to Amazon, handled all global based employee recruiting, scheduling of work shifts, and compensation of workers, while employees expressed openly their beliefs that working at an Amazon fulfillment center was like working in a “slave camp.” To add more negative publicity, a German public television station also aired a documentary in February that showed security guards conducting unannounced spot-checking of living quarters, searching workers for pilfered food, with certain security guards wearing black uniformed clothing associated with German neo-Nazi groups.

Because of this European media coverage Amazon was forced to cut its ties with a German based security firm contracted to oversee security conditions at its German based fulfillment centers during the Christmas holiday period.

Over this weekend, The Financial Times reported a newer twist to increased scrutiny, (paid subscription required or free metered view) that being the working conditions at German distribution centers. Employees at the Amazon Leipzig center have apparently voted to strike for higher pay.  About 540 0f the 1200 full-time staff of the Leipzig facility are members of a trade union that is now threatening this action. It was not quite clear when the strike action would commence, and as FT points out, it would be the first-ever reported labor strike at an Amazon facility. With about 9000 full-time employees, German trade unions have targeted high profile companies such as Amazon to drive membership and public awareness of labor issues.

For its part, Amazon stated to FT that the compensation of workers at its German logistics center was “at the upper end of the prevailing level in the logistics industry.” None the less, Amazon faces yet another challenge concerning its European based fulfillment operations.

Bob Ferrari