Amazon U.K. accused of sweatshop conditions

Temporary workers risk being terminated if they call in sick and are required to work seven days a week, according to a <i>Times</i> reporter who worked undercover at the online retailer.

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Steven Musil
2 min read

The next time you feel your boss is driving you like a heartless task master, you might want to ponder the alleged plight of some poor lads in England.

Temporary workers at Amazon.com's U.K. fulfillment centers risk being terminated if they call in sick and are required to work seven days a week, according to a report published Sunday in The Times of London. Employees reportedly get only two short breaks for an eight-hour shift and must request permission to use the toilet. The temporary employees hired to handle the seasonal increase in business earn the equivalent of $10.40 an hour but must pay $13 a day to take a bus to the warehouse if they can't arrange their own transportation, the newspaper reported.

Employees are also penalized for not achieving what one manager called "ridiculous" packing quotas and are often required to walk up to 14 miles during the course of a shift to retrieve items for shipping, according to a Times reporter who went undercover at Amazon's Bedfordshire warehouse.

Amazon does not deny the report. llan Lyall, vice president of European operations for Amazon, responded to the report in a statement printed with the story:

Every single member of the Amazon.co.uk workforce... is currently working flat out to ensure that our millions of customers receive the products that they have ordered on time this Christmas. Our number one focus is our customers and everyone at Amazon works hard on their behalf.

Apparently, it's also well known that being a holiday temp is the only way to get a full-time job with the company and that competition is fierce.

Demand for permanent roles from our temporary employees is at such a high level that we no longer need to recruit externally for permanent positions. Indeed, we have already seen well over 100 temporary employees become permanent this year alone. During 2008, we have taken on over 4,000 temporary fulfillment center associates in the U.K. and are benefiting from the lowest level of employees leaving the company that we have experienced over all our 11 Christmases.

Representatives for the company in the U.S. did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but spokeswoman Patty Smith told the Seattle Press Intelligencer that there were "inaccuracies" in The Times report.

"Don't believe everything you read!" Smith said via e-mail. "There were many inaccuracies in the U.K. article. Case in point: We don't allow FC (fulfillment center) associates to work more than 6 days a week in any location--they must have at least one day off."