Amazon fires German security firm

An Amazon warehouse in the United States. Amazon fired a German security firm after uproar from a documentary linking company to country's far-right.

Story highlights

  • Amazon fires security firm that a television documentary linked to country's far-right.
  • Documentary alleged mistreatment of foreign temporary workers in Germany
  • Many workers were unemployed and bussed around Europe to take temporary jobs
  • Amazon "has zero-tolerance for discrimination, expects same from partner companies"

Amazon moved to curtail a growing public relations disaster over alleged mistreatment of foreign temporary workers in Germany by firing a security firm that a television documentary linked to the country's far-right.

An ARD documentary last week examined the treatment of seasonal workers hired by an Amazon subcontractor in Germany. According to the report, workers were housed in cramped conditions under constant watch by security guards.

The programme sparked a storm of public anger about the treatment of workers, many of whom had been at Amazon during the busy Christmas holiday period.

The world's biggest online retailer by sales said the security service in question would no longer be used by the company, "effective immediately".

"As a responsible employer of approximately 8,000 salaried logistics employees, Amazon has zero-tolerance for discrimination and intimidation and expects the same from every company we work with," the company said.

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The outcry reflects growing concern in Germany about working conditions in the low wage sector, which has grown rapidly since the federal government introduced labour market reforms a decade ago.

Trade unions regularly identify the most egregious examples and have pressed for greater regulation and better pay.

On their arrival in Germany the temps were allegedly housed several to a cabin at a vacant holiday park where they were dependent on unreliable and overcrowded bus services. The workers were monitored by a security company called Hensel European Security Services, whose initials, the programme pointed out, spell out the surname of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.

Some of the security personnel, in black uniforms and with military-style haircuts, were shown wearing a clothing brand linked in the minds of most Germans with the far-right scene.

Hensel European Security denied any connection with far-right radicalism and noted its high proportion of immigrant workers of various religions. It said its presence on site was necessary because of the potential for conflict among workers who did not know each other and to prevent damage to the property.

Germany's labour minister threatened to cancel the licences of the agencies contracted by Amazon if the allegations proved correct.

Amazon has created thousands of jobs in Europe at a time of economic hardship but has repeatedly faced criticism for the conditions at its distribution centres.

A Financial Times in-depth report into an Amazon warehouse in the UK found workers often had to walk between seven and 15 miles each day and pass through security scanners before they went home to ensure they did not steal anything.

The case highlights how working conditions in Amazon warehouses are becoming a reputational issue for the company in Europe in the same way as they are in the US. Amazon is known for its secrecy, but the allegations have forced the company to respond.

In the US, Amazon warehouses have come under scrutiny in the past two years as local media have reported stories of tough productivity targets, soaring temperatures and on-the-job injuries. Amazon has said that its safety record cannot be portrayed with anecdotes and that its rate of work-related injuries and illnesses is lower than the average in the warehouse industry.

Additional reporting by Barney Jopson in New York

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