Amazon faces €1m a day fine for selling ‘non-essential’ goods

Unions accuse online retailer of putting employees at risk of Covid-19 infection

Dozens of Amazon warehouses have experienced clusters of coronavirus infections. File photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Dozens of Amazon warehouses have experienced clusters of coronavirus infections. File photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

 

Amazon must stop selling “non-essential” items or face a fine of €1 million a day until it can come up with a safety plan to protect the health of its employees, a French court has ruled.

The ruling, which has already been suspended pending appeal, required the company to only accept orders for groceries, toiletries and medical products as part of the wider lockdown imposed in France.

The company was sued by the Sud Commerce union after the hospitalisation of an Amazon employee, virus diagnoses at several sites, and suspected infection of “dozens” more workers prompted the union to declare the company unsafe to work for.

“While the prime minister last March ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and activities bringing together more than 100 people simultaneously, due to the coronavirus epidemic, Amazon continues its activity as if nothing had happened,” a union spokesperson said alongside the lawsuit, “despite not only the mobilisation of staff and formal notices from unions, inspection and occupational health, but also criticism from the ministers of economy and labour.”

Appeal

Amazon immediately appealed against the ruling, securing a suspension of the requirements until conclusion of the appeal.

In a statement the company said: “We disagree with today’s decision by the Nanterre court and are currently assessing its implications for our French logistics sites. We will also continue to work with all stakeholders and provide the necessary clarifications as we have done since the beginning of this unprecedented crisis.”

The bulk of the criticism of the company, in the case, was levelled at its health and safety policies. The judges said it had “evidently failed to comply with obligations to protect the health of employees”.

The company has come under criticism worldwide for its alleged failings, and on Tuesday admitted that one of its employees had died of Covid-19 in late March.

Dozens of Amazon warehouses have experienced clusters of infections. One, on New York’s Staten Island, had at least 14 positive tests, and workers said the true figure was far higher.

The outbreaks have caused internal dissent, which Amazon has so far responded to harshly. Three employees who were at the centre of internal protests have been fired, though the company denies a connection between their complaints and terminations.

– Guardian News and Media 2020