Amazon Has a “Shitstorm” on Its Hands

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By Meghan Foley | February 16, 2013 5:35 AM EST

Wall St. Cheat Sheet

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) may be creating thousands of jobs, but many of the Internet retailer’s employees are less than happy with their positions. In Germany, a grim portrait of life at Amazon’s packing and distribution centers was revealed in a documentary that was broadcast on Wednesday by the television channel ARD.

In a series of interviews, temporary workers hired through agencies on Amazon’s behalf spoke of long hours, short breaks, and pay lower than promised. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that these employees, who were recruited to handle the Christmas season’s higher demand, come from other European countries where unemployment is high and jobs at Amazon seem like a prize. But that view is rapidly changing.

Not only are working conditions allegedly below standard at Amazon’s logistic centers, but the company’s temporary staff have been “subjected to a climate of intimidation,” according to The Associated Press. They faced constant searches and harassment from security guards that wear black uniforms linked to Germany’s neo-Nazi culture and sport military haircuts. Even the name of security firm used by Amazon — HESS Security — is reminiscent of Nazi Germany; Rudolf Hess was one of Adolf Hitler’s deputies.

Amazon is naturally concerned by the allegations. “Amazon tolerates no discrimination or intimidation,” company spokeswoman Ulrike Stoecker told The Associated Press in an on Thursday. “Even though the security company wasn’t hired by Amazon we are of course examining the allegations…and will take appropriate measures immediately.” The retailer had better look into the issue quickly because the daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the documentary has caused quite a “shitstorm.”

But this is not the first complaint lodged against Amazon for poor working conditions. Workers at Amazon’s United Kingdom warehouses have found the circumstances to be trying. The fulfillment centers, as they are known, can receive up to 35 orders per second, and to ensure these parcels arrive on customers’ doorsteps quickly, efficiency of epic proportions is needed.

Amazon has adopted “kaizen” techniques, which were pioneered by Toyota ( productivity. These tactics may improve productivity, but workers have reported walking between 7 and 15 miles per shift and described the pressure as intense. As the Financial Times reported, the feedback received by city leaders in Rugeley, where Amazon operates one of its centers, has likened the working conditions to “being in a slave camp.”

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