Amazon as creepy Big Brother

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After all the negative attention it received last year from a New York Times exposé of its work practices, you’d think that Amazon would strive to improve working conditions for its employees. Alas, if Josh Eidelson’s recent piece for Bloomberg Businessweek about Amazon’s treatment of its warehouse workers is any indication, apparently this is not the case:

In an effort to discourage stealing, Amazon has put up flatscreen TVs that display examples of alleged on-the-job theft, say 11 of the company’s current and former warehouse workers and antitheft staff. The alleged offenders aren’t identified by name. Each is represented by a black silhouette stamped with the word “terminated” and accompanied by details such as when they stole, what they stole, how much it was worth, and how they got caught—changing an outbound package’s address, for example, or stuffing merchandise in their socks. Some of the silhouettes are marked “arrested.”

Theft is a persistent concern for Amazon, with warehouses full of small but valuable items and a workforce with high turnover and low pay. Workers interviewed for this story say the range of thefts posted on the screens is as varied as the company’s sprawling catalog: DVDs, an iPad, jewelry, a lighter, makeup, a microwave, phone cases, Pop Rocks, video games. Several recall a post about an employee fired for stealing a co-worker’s lunch.

The plight of Amazon’s warehouse workers has long been an ongoing focus for labor advocates and anyone else interested in dignity at work. But this kind of thuggish, Big Brother behavior takes things to an Orwellian level.

Of course, there are more effective and humane management practices that serve as alternatives to Amazon’s. Costco is a prime example of a more positive approach. It offers some of the highest wages and best benefit packages in the retail sector, which, in turn, have contributed to low rates of employee theft and turnover.

Amazon has been a pioneering retailer in many ways, and I have done a lot of business with them. However, in response to their working conditions, I’ve cut down my ordering from them considerably and expressed my concerns via customer service. I don’t think that innovation and poor treatment of workers must go hand in hand. Amazon values its customers and shareholders, but it often regards its workers as disposable commodities.

It’s really not rocket science, is it? If you treat your workers with dignity, you’ll be rewarded in kind and contribute to the greater good. It sure beats shame and intimidation as standard operating procedures. Amazon, you can do better.

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Related posts

Six points on the New York Times investigative piece on Amazon’s work practices (2015)

Why I cancelled my Amazon Prime account (2014)

One response

  1. I may have read this post slightly incorrectly but surely – if staff are stealing from their employers, a trust, a contract they are breaching, then Amazon do have the right to take preventative measures to ensure the message is sent – clearly that this must stop.

    The impact stealing has on customers who buy from Amazon is severely damaging and questions Amazon’s reputation. I know of someone who ordered a Mobile phone from Amazon worth over £400. In return, he received a electrical toothbrush. Upon further investigation by this person, it appeared the physical size and weight of the electrical toothbrush was identical of the phone they had ordered. In the end, the matter was resolved and a full refund was given – but someone had fooled Amazon and a customer, and confidence in Amazon rocketed very low.

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