Amazon fined for ‘excessive’ surveillance of workers

Amazon fined for 'excessive' surveillance of workers
Man scanning boxGetty Images

Amazon has been fined €32m (£27m) in France for “excessive” surveillance of its workers, including measures the data watchdog found to be illegal.

The CNIL said Amazon France Logistique, which manages warehouses, recorded data captured by workers’ handheld scanners.

It found Amazon tracked activity so precisely that it led to workers having to potentially justify each break.

Amazon said it strongly disagreed with the CNIL’s findings and called them “factually incorrect”.

France’s data protection agency investigated Amazon warehouses following complaints by employees as well as media coverage of conditions.

It outlined a number of areas where it found Amazon had breached General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This included a system with three alerts in place to monitor employee activity, which the CNIL ruled to be illegal.

One alert triggered if an item was scanned too quickly or less than 1.25 seconds after scanning a previous item, increasing the risk of error.

Another signalled breaks of 10 minutes or more, while a third tracked breaks between one and 10 minutes.

The CNIL also questioned why Amazon needed to keep workers’ data for 31 days.

Responding to the findings an Amazon spokesperson said: “We strongly disagree with the CNIL’s conclusions which are factually incorrect and we reserve the right to file an appeal.

“Warehouse management systems are industry standard and are necessary for ensuring the safety, quality, and efficiency of operations and to track the storage of inventory and processing of packages on time and in line with customer expectations.”

‘Micromanagement’

A similar system for Amazon warehouses in the UK has been highlighted before.

Amazon’s Europe policy chief Brian Palmer told a parliamentary select committee in November 2022 that if an employee had three productivity flags on the system they could be fired. The online giant later said they were not “fully correct”.

The subsequent report published by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee raised concerns about surveillance technology being used to set performance targets and monitor performance.

The report said there was evidence to suggest that Amazon’s surveillance practices were “leading to distrust, micromanagement and, in some cases, disciplinary action against its workers”.

The committee said it had written to Amazon outlining its concern the technology would put “undue stress on its workforce”.

Amazon declined to comment on its UK warehouses.

The CNIL said Amazon already had access to lots of data to achieve quality and safety in its warehouses, and called the system “excessively intrusive”. It also noted that tracking employees so closely could lead to them having to justify even a brief interruption of scanning.

Amazon also used data collected by the scanner to plan work in its warehouses, evaluate employees on a weekly basis and train them. The watchdog ruled Amazon did not need access to the smallest details of data collected by the scanners to do so.

The online shopping giant was fined for not properly informing workers and external visitors about surveillance, with the watchdog also found to have had insufficient security on its video surveillance.

Reacting to the ruling, the GMB union which represents Amazon’s UK warehouse workers, said the company’s staff were facing “bruising levels of scrutiny and surveillance”.

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Source: bbc.co.uk

By David Ryckman