An investigative journalist in the UK has uncovered brutal working conditions at Amazon’s fulfillment centers. Far from being another venue of hard work for the upcoming Christmas season, the story has documented people working for hours in slave like conditions to such a point they are collapsing from exhaustion and having to be taken away in ambulances:
Alone in a locked metal cage, 10 feet from my nearest colleague, a robot approaches from the shadows and thrusts a tower of shelves towards me.
I have nine seconds to grab and process an item to be sent for packing – a target of 300 items an hour, for hour after relentless hour.
As I bend to the floor then reach high above my head to fulfil a never-ending stream of orders, my body screams at me.
Welcome to Amazon’s picking floor. Here, while cameras watch my every move, a screen in front of me offers constant reminders of my “units per hour” and exactly how long each has taken.
This is the online giant’s biggest European packing plant, set to be shipping 1.2 million items a year.
As the UK’s top retailer, it made £7.3billion last year alone. But a Sunday Mirror investigation today reveals that success comes at a price – the daily ordeal of its workers.
I spent five weeks at the firm’s newest warehouse in Tilbury, Essex, armed with a secret camera bought from Amazon’s own website.
I found staff asleep on their feet, exhausted from toiling for up to 55 hours a week.
Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack – and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended to by ambulance crews.
It is a far cry from the singing, smiling faces that fill Amazon’s Christmas adverts on TV. Its army of 24,000 unhappy elves are paid as little as seven pence per item to help pack and deliver each one across the UK.
My final shift was two days ago, Black Friday – when millions of Brits logged on to help founder Jeff Bezos earn an extra £1.8billion overnight. But the firm has been hit by a series of scandals, prompting our undercover probe.
Across Italy and Germany staff have gone on strike, complaining of low pay and poor conditions.
And employees at UK warehouses have told of sleeping in tents and under bridges just to get to work on time.
Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and exhausting, “intolerable” working conditions are frequent complaints. Staff have been paid less than the living wage, and it even emerged drivers had faced fines for “early” deliveries.
As experts warn of workers facing an increased risk of mental and physical illness, Amazon repeatedly promised to clean up its act. But a whiteboard in the plant for staff comments suggests it has far to go.
There were complaints of filthy toilets and breaks still too short.
One asked: “Why are we not allowed to sit when it is quiet and not busy? We are human beings, not slaves and animals.”
I was told by one worker: “I expected it to be all modern and powered by robots in here, but my eyes are wide open now.”
My own story of how I became a human robot could not have been darker. Shifts began in the gloom at 7.30am and ended at 6pm, long after the sun had gone down.
Many of the clocks have been covered over with tape by employees desperate not to be reminded how long is left of their shift. But time still rules here – a new package must be sealed and ready to go every 30 seconds.
Whatever the hour thousands of workers are racing to hit goals set by computers monitoring their every move. In my five weeks I saw staff struggling to meet impossible targets, in constant fear of the sack.
Two half-hour breaks were the only time off my feet, but it was barely enough time to race to the canteen and wolf down some food to keep my energy up.
My body ached, and my fitness tracker showed I walked at least 10 miles most days.
Despite being a keen marathon runner, the physical effort left me feeling dizzy, and I worried I might keel over if I kept pushing myself as hard as I needed to meet my targets.
One colleague was taken to hospital by ambulance when they collapsed on the job, after struggling on despite feeling unwell.
Another ambulance was called after a girl suffered a panic attack when she was told compulsory overtime would mean her working up to 55 hours a week over Christmas.
One of my colleagues told me: “Everybody suffers here. I pulled my hamstring but I just had to carry on. My friend spent two days off after she damaged her knee ligaments.”
With my secret camera, I documented colleagues snatching a moment to rest their aching feet when supervisors could not see them. Less lucky ones were told off after being caught taking a breather. Some simply slept where they stood.
Since October Amazon has been racing to fill 1,500 roles at the warehouse, the size of 11 football pitches.
It is so vast that just walking to the toilet could take more than five minutes – almost a third of a mile from some of my workstations, and even longer when those on my floor were out of order, as they often were.
If I went, the system would know I had not been active, so the pressure was on to hold it in. To reach the site, named LCY2 after nearby London City airport, workers pay £4 a day from wages for a bus laid on from London.
Some are so desperate for one of the £8.20-an-hour jobs that they spend four hours each day commuting.
One who wants to move locally told me: “Landlords are putting up rents since the site opened. The only room I can find is £600 a month. I take home £200 a week – how can I afford it?”
In the days leading up to Black Friday, missed performance targets saw scores of staff sacked.
Once a day, a supervisor would approach me to remind me how I was performing. Often it was not well. But with workers pitted against each other, one told me: “As long as you’re not bottom you’ve no need to worry… for the time being.”
Once an item is picked it continues through the building to end up in packing – the other department where I worked.
I was told to pack 120 single items an hour, or 85 multiple items. And I’ve since been told this will rise to 200 items.
Employees can be seen walking up and down conveyor belts rattling boxes before cherry picking ones full of smaller items to meet their quota. A colleague said: “My girlfriend says even the old ladies on night shifts have been fighting over the boxes.
“If you get one with lots of small items you save time and keep your numbers up – everyone’s after those first.”
Sometimes I met my targets, but I knew I couldn’t keep it up much longer.
By halfway through the day I felt drained. If I grumbled I was reminded my numbers would suffer if I stopped. In my final fortnight there were at least two safety incidents that could have seen somebody seriously hurt.
One colleague told me: “At my induction someone was asking why the staff turnover was so high here. It’s because they’re killing people. All my friends think I’m dead. I’m exhausted.”
His remark summed up what I had seen with my own eyes. When it comes to treating its staff as people, Amazon still has much to deliver.
Amazon told us: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have created thousands of permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres in recent years.
“We offer great jobs and a positive environment with opportunities for growth. As with most companies, we expect a certain level of performance.
“Targets are based on previous performance achieved by our workers. Associates are evaluated over a long period of time as we know a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour.”(source)
To think all of this is being done in the name of getting ready for Christmas in America and across the western world.
But, what about Thanksgiving?
Last week, Americans celebrated Thanksgiving, which while there is some disagreement as to the precise origins, the nation at whole associates it with the initial 1621 celebration of the Puritans of the New England colonies giving thanks for the blessings of the year’s harvest and has been celebrated since then. In our current time, Thanksgiving is looked upon as the “holiday” leading up to Christmas and is the “gateway” to the “holiday season,” which has been reduced to little more than a marketing orgy for businesses to increase their profits before the year’s end.
However, something that one may have noticed is that Christmas “shopping deals”, which traditionally start after Thanksgiving, seem to have started VERY early. In fact, Thanksgiving was veritably passed over. Anybody who visited a store in the last month could see this- the “Thanksgiving” displays were either already taken down or on closeout before the holiday was celebrated, and in its place was “Christmas” items for sale. It was as though Thanksgiving was just a passing note that nobody cared about and could eventually be eliminated or forgotten in a matter of a few years.
Why does this matter?
Years ago, Maria von Trapp of the famous von Trapp family visited Russia and described what she saw. She called it the “land without a Sunday,” as all people have a day off but nothing is unified, and there is no division between the sacred and profane use of time:
I shall always recall how slowly and solemnly Baron K. read us the title “The Land Without a Sunday.” Of all the things they had seen and observed, one experience had most deeply impressed them: that Russia had done away with Sunday. This had shocked them even more than what they saw of Siberian concentration camps or of the misery and hardship in cities and country. The absence of Sunday seemed to be the root of all the evil.
“Instead of a Sunday,” Baron K. told us, “the Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country. First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week. What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work. The atmosphere was one of constant rush and drive; finally, we confessed to each other that what we were missing most was not a well-cooked meal, or a hot bath, but a quiet, peaceful Sunday with church bells ringing and people resting after prayer.” (source)
While her observations pertain to Sundays, one must note there is something to be said about the division of time in one’s life. Certain times belong to men, other times to God. The Catholic Church has taught this for centuries, and hence the reason for the liturgical calendar, Holy Days of Obligation, days of Penance, and feast days. The idea is that if all times belongs to God because God is the author of time, we, His creation, owe to Him to use our time in accordance with His will. Certainly man must work, but work has been created for man to bring him to sainthood, not man created merely for the purpose of work.
The elimination of Sunday as a day when business cannot be conducted opened the way for what was described above in the Soviet Union- an endless space of interaction without any sort of rest in terms of social designation. It was as though the society never stopped moving at all, with the exception of certain holidays throughout the year. For the rest of the time, men move about as cogs in a machine, endlessly turning and grinding until they wear out and are replaced by new cogs that will inevitably endure the same abuse in an endless cycle of mental and physical slavery that enervates the soul and destroys a man’s humanity.
While Russia was then rightly criticized, the same process has taken place in America but on an even more efficient scale. American workers are lauded for being today among the most “productive” people in the history of our economy, but they are working longer hours for less pay. The only way that such a phenomenon could take place is that a few are enriching themselves at the labor of another while not only refusing to pay them their just wages, but while inventing reasons to take away from them. It is a sin that, like willful murder, abusing the widow and orphan, and homosexuality, is one of four that cry to Heaven for vengeance because a man’s legitimate economic efforts can no longer provide even a meager existence for himself lest he work to the point of self-abuse and his own destruction.
The Sunday prohibition was removed almost 60 years ago, and it has been instrumental in reshaping American economic life, as it increased the profits of certain business owners and manufacturers but did not benefit at all the society or its people, instead reducing them to labor more for less return.
It should not be considered an accident that with the continual push for harder and harder labor, and the continued talk about the “rise of the machines” and how men are going to be “replaced” by robotics in more and more manual labor jobs, that at the same time there is a push to veritably eliminate the social force of holidays by simply ignoring some and overephasizing others to such a point that nobody cares about them, respectively in reference to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is ignored now, and Christmas pushed so much that by the time Christmas comes nobody cares except that people stop talking about it.
The future as we have said is that of the Georgia Guidestones, in which a select group of wealthy men who want to assert themselves as being divine wish to greatly reduce the human population and enslave the rest to service their will as their human cattle and they the farmers over them. An animal does not possess free will, it does not have a conception of the sacred or the profane, and it does not care. It simply exists, and like a machine does what it is programmed to do until it inevitably ceases to exist.
Man is made of body and soul, a little lower than the angels and above the animals. Work is made for man to bring him closer to God, not man exist for work alone. While one must believe this, believe does not matter if it is not translated to action, and the way it is translated to action is by recapturing the sacred division of time that the Church has always taught.
The Bible states that all a man’s days are numbered, and that only the Lord knows how many days a man has until he will be called to give an account of his life. The end times will come, and if not now they come at the end of a man’s life. Certainly a man must work hard and labor well, but that must be done in the context of how God desires a man to labor, and as the Church has shown, all a man’s time belongs to God and must be divided accordingly.
On a positive note, the nation of Poland is attempting to reverse this trend by eliminating all Sunday business sales by 2020. However, this is just one nation. It needs to happen all over the Western World, and the USA as well, for if we do not honor this division, it is only a matter of time before men will find themselves in a prison of their own making caused by their refusal to honor God and driven in the pursuit of ultimately, greed.