Amazon Fulfillment Centers

This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly briefs issue of January 2014.

In the months leading to Christmas 2013, news sites across the US and Europe posted undercover exposés of working conditions at Amazon warehouses, likening these to ‘slave camps.’ These reports have sparked a growing unease amongst online shoppers who don’t expect the new-age company to employ old-age practices.

In 2013, BBC launched the documentary ‘Panorama: The Truth Behind The Click’ – an undercover exposé of working conditions at a UK based warehouse

The Huffington Post sums up some of the negative coverage plaguing Amazon:

“In recent years, there have been media reports of warehouse workers fainting from heat exhaustion, with air-conditioning installed only many months later. Some U.S. employees are suing, claiming that they have not been paid for work or that Amazon employs tactics to avoid paying unemployment benefits.German colleagues went on strike over Christmas.”


Amazon Fulfilment Center employee reviews on note that the company pays well and rate their experience highly. But they complain that the 10 hour work shifts are physically exhausting, walking on concrete all day takes a toll on their body, the performance targets are too high, the breaks are too short (and don’t include the time it takes to walk to the employee stations) and the queues to pass through security are too long.

Other worker stories note that the conditions are typical of working in a warehouse and that the seasonal jobs are popular among audiences like college students and RV-driving ‘workampers.’  The temp jobs are physically demanding, but pay well, offer many incentives, allow plenty of voluntary and mandatory overtime hours (at over time pays), and provide a ‘great workout.’

Just like the employee reviews and media exposés, people’s reactions to these stories are diverse. Most denounce the exploitation of labour to maintain high efficiency and low costs, and are beginning to boycott the online retailer. Some however, note that physical intensity of the job can’t be helped and that the perks sound reasonable.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan points out one reason Amazon is making the news:

“With Amazon’s business model on the rise, it is important to seek out an inside view of life as an Amazon worker. These curious retail-warehouse hybrid jobs are becoming a staple of many middle American communities.”

A communications problem?

Amazon’s response to these claims seems predictable – the company denied BBC’s claims that the warehouse jobs lead to increased mental illness, and insist that employee safety is a top priority. But what most news sites don’t highlight – and what Amazon doesn’t promote adequately – is that Amazon UK recently “increased pay levels for all associates and moved to a four-day week shift schedule that provides associates with three days off per week.” One possible reason is the public’s increasing misgivings towards technology companies.


Backlash against Silicon Valley

People have a fair number of reasons to extend their deep mistrust of corporates to include technology companies. Claims that people’s data is being sold to advertisers, or worse handed over to the NSA, have hurt brands like Facebook, Google and even Apple. Silicon Valley’s impact on San Francisco has been another sore spot – the influx of tech millionaires has driven up real estate rates, pushed out former inhabitants and sparked a culture clash. As the backlash continues to grow, tech companies are now the target of online outrage, online petitions, calls for boycotts and even protests.


01 January – People’s Insights Monthly Briefs by MSLGROUP

About People’s Insights

100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects – that are driving engagement with stakeholders – on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every month, we pick the best projects and analyse conversations around them, on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself and also on the broader social web, into an insights report. Every quarter, we compile original insights from the MSLGROUP global network into the People’s Insights Quarterly Magazine.

In our first year and half, we focused on inspiring consumer projects around social data, crowdsourcing, storytelling and citizenship. We synthesized the insights to provide foresights for business leaders and change-makers in the ten-part People’s Insights annual report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement, also available as a Kindle eBook and an iPad app.

In 2013, we launched “The Future of” series with a focus on CitizenshipMoney and Employee (Re)Engagement. In 2014, we continue to track inspiring projects that are shaping the future of engagement, with a focus on reputation, employee engagement and citizenship.

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi is Director of Research and Insights at MSLGROUP. She tracks digital consumer trends for People’s Insights and is community manager of MSLGROUP’s insights community SPRINT. Tweet her at @nidhichimnani

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