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Amazon: Online giant must do more to protect warehouse and delivery workers during COVID-19 crisis

Hundreds of US Amazon workers to call in sick in protest today at lack of safety safeguards

Reports of new coronavirus cases emerging at warehouses in Indiana and New Jersey

Amazon’s profits have surged during pandemic, yet workers reportedly fired for voicing health concerns

‘Jeff Bezos needs to step up and address the legitimate and vital concerns raised by Amazon staff’ - Joe Westby

Online retail giant Amazon must ensure its workers around the world receive adequate health and safety protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty International said today, as hundreds of US Amazon workers prepare to call in sick in protest today over labour issues. 

Hundreds of US Amazon warehouse workers have already stayed at home this week, citing various safety concerns, including a lack of health protection at warehouses. 

Amnesty has called on Amazon to protect the rights of workers who speak out, amid allegations that staff have been fired after voicing safety concerns.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the world, people have increasingly turned to online commerce and Amazon has experienced an enormous surge in business. However, there have been strikes or walk-outs from Amazon workers in France, Italy and in several locations in the US, over concerns about the company’s COVID-19 protocols and other labour issues.

Amnesty has previously written to Amazon requesting information over what steps it is taking to ensure it respects labour rights during the current health crisis, but did not receive a response.

Joe Westby, Technology and Human Rights researcher at Amnesty International, said: 

“We stand in solidarity with Amazon workers who are speaking up for their rights. Amazon warehouse and delivery workers are risking their lives in the midst of a pandemic to deliver essential goods to all of us.

“Amazon is one of the world’s wealthiest companies and its profits are surging as a result of this crisis. It is repugnant that the company’s workforce feel their safety is not being taken seriously.

“Jeff Bezos needs to step up and address the legitimate and vital concerns raised by Amazon staff - profits should never be put above people.

“It’s outrageous that Amazon is set to end its policy to give workers the option to take unlimited unpaid leave, which was just instituted in March. With reports of new COVID-19 cases emerging at warehouses in Indiana and New Jersey, employees face an impossible choice of potentially putting their health at serious risk by going to work, or having to leave the company. 

“Allegations that staff have been fired for speaking out are deeply disturbing. No Amazon worker should face reprisals for speaking out about safety concerns. Amazon must ensure that workers can report concerns about health and safety risks without fear of retaliation.”  

Amnesty wrote to Amazon requesting information about what steps it is taking to ensure it respects labour rights during the COVID-19 crisis, but did not receive a response.

Workers can legally down tools

Companies have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate in the world, including protecting their workers and providing safe working conditions. They must adhere to health and safety standards, and properly implement national health advice in order to minimise workplace exposure to the virus. 

Under international law, employers must put in place arrangements that allow workers to report on health and safety risks. Workers’ safety concerns should be listened to and addressed thoroughly, and workers must not in way suffer victimisation for raising concerns or lodging a complaint related to health and safety.

By law, workers are entitled to remove themselves from a work situation that can reasonably be considered as posing a serious risk to their health. Until adequate measures are adopted and an imminent danger to life and health is addressed, employers cannot force workers to endure such conditions. 

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