As warehouse worker-turned-advocate Chris Smalls calls on Amazon to shut down its U.S. warehouses, reports emerged today that a court order is forcing the ecommerce giant to close all six of its warehouses in France until at least April 20.
Amazon confirmed it is temporarily suspending operations at its fulfillment centers in France following a court decision.
A French court ruled Tuesday that Amazon must carry out a more “thorough assessment of the risk of coronavirus contagion” at its warehouses in the country, according to Reuters. In the meantime, Amazon can only deliver essential goods such as food and medical supplies, or face fines.
“This is in spite of the huge investment we made in additional safety measures to keep our hard-working, dedicated colleagues safe, while ensuring they had continued employment at this difficult time,” Amazon spokesperson Stu Jackson wrote in an email to Adweek. “Our [fulfillment center] operations are complex and varied, and with the punitive 1 million euro per incident fines imposed by the court, the risk was too high.”
Jackson said Amazon is “perplexed” by the decision and has launched an appeal, given “the overwhelming evidence we provided about the safety measures we have implemented.”
The court order follows a complaint filed by a group of trade unions in France, which expressed concern over the health of the 10,000 Amazon employees who work in its crowded warehouses, according to Reuters’ report.
“The union action that led to the decision will likely have consequences for many people in the country, including our thousands of employees, customers who rely on us now more than ever, and the small local businesses that use Amazon to grow,” Jackson added.
Complaints about working conditions in Amazon warehouses have surfaced in the U.S. too, which the company has countered with daily releases about its coronavirus response efforts, including implementing 150 process updates (and counting) such as enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures. Amazon’s U.S. employees are not part of a union.
According to Smalls, in an exclusive interview with Adweek, Amazon is not painting an accurate picture. He was fired in March after organizing a walkout, which he said was to protect his employees after managers asked him not to tell them about a confirmed case at their Staten Island warehouse.
The news comes as Amazon is staffing up in the U.S. even more, announcing it will hire an additional 75,000 temporary workers on top of the 100,000 it added in the last month.