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Amazon attacked in German documentary

Amazon is said to be involved in a scandal in Germany, with a documentary accusing the retailer of intimidating its temporary workers with "neo-Nazi guards", according to a report in the Independent.

The retailer has said it does not tolerate intimidation and will "act swiftly to eliminate any such behaviour."

In a programme aired on Germany's ARD channel, the documentary-makers alleged that the internet giant employed a group called HESS Security to monitor the behaviour of foreign workers employed at Amazon distribution centres. 

The ARD team is said to have captured footage of the guards wearing black uniforms and boots, and sporting military haircuts and Thor Steinar clothing, a brand synonymous with the far-right and banned from many German institutions.

Amazon employs thousands of staff across several locations in Germany, including logistics centres in Bad Hersfeld, Konstanz and Augsburg. The documentary alleged that the temporary staff in those facilities were paid less than the rate first advertised, and could be fired at will, while working eight-hour shifts which could see them walking 17km.

A statement from Amazon.de said: "Over 7,700 permanent Amazon employees work in the German logistics centres, to support during the Christmas season we hire additional Amazon employees with a seasonal contract. These employees help us to cope with the increased number of customer orders during peak periods. Also, it gives us the opportunity to meet potential new long-term employees and hire adjusting to our future growth - after this year's holiday season approx 2,000 additional employees were transferred to a long-term employment. In high peak times, we also work with temp agencies.

"All associates working in logistics for Amazon earn over €10 gross an hour after one year, and over €9.30 in the first year. The associates from Spain mentioned in the feature, hired through the temporary employment agency, earned €1,400 gross per month in a 37.5 hour week, €1,500 a month on the night shift at 32.5 hours per week. These amounts were paid by contract, even if not the full contractual number of hours was requested.

"We take the safety and welfare of employees very seriously and regularly check external service providers responsible for the lodging of seasonal workers from other regions. We ask associates for feedback: Whenever employees suggest improvements concerning working conditions or accommodation we listen and address the concern immediately. 

"Amazon does not tolerate discrimination or intimidation and we will act swiftly to eliminate any such behavior.
 
"We aim to deliver your goods quickly and reliably, also during peak season around Christmas. And we know: This can only be achieved with satisfied employees, no matter if they are long-term or seasonal employees or support us from a temporary employment agency. Therefore, please rest assured that we look into every incident reported to us by employees and take appropriate action."

Earlier this week the GMB union held protests in the UK over workers' pay and conditions at Amazon. However the company was judged the most respected in the US, ahead of Apple and Google, according to a report also released this week.

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It's useful to have Amazon's response to the documentary (which is available here: http://tinyurl.com/c7gqchy ) but given the majority of this report is devoted to the press release itself, with very little analysis, The Bookseller is verging towards being an apologist for some allegedly very questionable working conditions and practices in Amazon's German distribution centres.

Ending on the positive note that the company was 'judged the most respected in the US' recently also inflects the report.

I hope further reports with more depth of analysis will be forthcoming? It has already led to one German publisher (Ch. Schroer) cancelling contracts with Amazon.

Hi Claire, we wanted to address this story promptly since it has been raised in the UK press, and offer what information is available to us now - as non-German speakers - as responsibly as we can. We expect to be able to run a follow-up from a German-speaking journalist in the near future. Thanks.

Thanks Benedicte, good to hear that - I do understand wanting to get something out quickly - it just sounded a little more pro-Amazon than impartial...

Impartiality is most definitely the intention and if we haven't achieved that, it is our failing. However the claims being made are such serious ones that it seemed appropriate to run Amazon.de's statement in full.

One of our German students has written up an account of the documentary here: http://www.publishing.stir.ac.uk/2013/02/17/ausgeliefert-subcontracted-w... if you want to follow up the allegations...

HESS Security? Really? Wearing black Thor Steinar?

Am I the only one thinking they might want to look at a rebrand?

The German scandal has caused a lot of reflection everywhere. Here is an interesting reading list:

John Naughton in the Observer: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/17/digital-capitalism-low-pay

Sarah O'Connor in the FT: http://on.ft.com/VmulHI

Union protests at Amazon sites in the UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21444710

Enough reading to get on with for the time being

The company's name is Hensel European Security Services (H.E.S.S.)and Amazon has cancelled their contract today as far as I know

It's useful to have Amazon's response to the documentary (which is available here: http://tinyurl.com/c7gqchy ) but given the majority of this report is devoted to the press release itself, with very little analysis, The Bookseller is verging towards being an apologist for some allegedly very questionable working conditions and practices in Amazon's German distribution centres.

Ending on the positive note that the company was 'judged the most respected in the US' recently also inflects the report.

I hope further reports with more depth of analysis will be forthcoming? It has already led to one German publisher (Ch. Schroer) cancelling contracts with Amazon.

Hi Claire, we wanted to address this story promptly since it has been raised in the UK press, and offer what information is available to us now - as non-German speakers - as responsibly as we can. We expect to be able to run a follow-up from a German-speaking journalist in the near future. Thanks.

Thanks Benedicte, good to hear that - I do understand wanting to get something out quickly - it just sounded a little more pro-Amazon than impartial...

Impartiality is most definitely the intention and if we haven't achieved that, it is our failing. However the claims being made are such serious ones that it seemed appropriate to run Amazon.de's statement in full.

One of our German students has written up an account of the documentary here: http://www.publishing.stir.ac.uk/2013/02/17/ausgeliefert-subcontracted-w... if you want to follow up the allegations...

HESS Security? Really? Wearing black Thor Steinar?

Am I the only one thinking they might want to look at a rebrand?

The German scandal has caused a lot of reflection everywhere. Here is an interesting reading list:

John Naughton in the Observer: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/17/digital-capitalism-low-pay

Sarah O'Connor in the FT: http://on.ft.com/VmulHI

Union protests at Amazon sites in the UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21444710

Enough reading to get on with for the time being

The company's name is Hensel European Security Services (H.E.S.S.)and Amazon has cancelled their contract today as far as I know