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Amazon hits back at criticism of warehouse working conditions

27 November 2013

Criticisms that working practices in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centres could lead to ‘physical and mental illness’ are incorrect, according to a senior member of Amazon’s fulfillment team.

The BBC has carried out an investigation into Amazon that featured a respected professor in public health questioning its working practices, as well as footage from an undercover reporter working as a picker in its Swansea fulfillment centre.

Timothy Collins, director of operations in the EU for Amazon said: "The criticisms are not correct and the BBC documentary was unbalanced. Having said that, we can improve and we are very focused on that.”

Collins added: "We have 6,000 employees in the UK and each year 10% of these progress from jobs in the warehouse into higher roles such as management.”

Collins also said Amazon was developing automated goods to person technology to reduce walking time for warehouse operatives.

Kiva Systems robots ‘coming soon to Europe’

Amazon bought the mobile robotic fulfillment company Kiva Systems for around half a billion pounds last year and Collins insisted this technology would take the strain off its warehouse operatives.

He said: "We started in the US where we had pre-existing customers we were leveraging the technology with. 

"We have had to take the technology and scale it up. It will be coming soon to Europe.

"The key difference with Kiva is that in a facility without it, the picker walks to the ‘mod’, picks the item and takes it to the conveyor. With Kiva, the robot goes to the mod and brings the product to the picker, who then places it on the conveyor.

"We still use pickers but it lowers the amount of walking they have to do."


You can see a demo of the Kiva Systems autonomous robots here.

Amazon picking role 'similar to jobs in many industries'

In a separate statement Amazon added that employee safety was its number one priority.

The statement read: "Amazon has retained an independent expert who has visited our buildings and associates. In the independent expert’s opinion, a picking role is similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness.”

The company also said its RIDDOR rate (the "Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations” as defined by the HSE) was less than 40% of the average for companies reporting under the same industry code in the period from April 2012 to October 2013.

Amazon refuted allegations that employees are not paid well.

"We provide competitive wages and stock grants which over the past five years have added an average of 12% to base pay annually. This means that, on average, an Amazon associate with two years’ service will be earning £8.98 per hour for a day shift or £10.78 per hour for a night shift. Additionally, we provide a raft of benefits,” the company said.

Further details can be found here.