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Amazon questioned over spying on politicians and trade unions

A group of MEPs has written to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, expressing concern that the company might be spying on politicians and targeting workers who are seeking to organise.

The letter, from 37 cross-party MEPs, expressed concerns about “increasing warnings about your company’s anti-union policy”.

It stated: “We are concerned about whether European trade unions, as well as local, national or European elected representatives, are affected by [the company’s] approach to ‘threat monitoring’, which aims to repress collective action and trade union organising.”

Recruiting for trade union monitoring

In August, Amazon published two job posts for ‘intelligence analysts’ on its US website for roles that included investigating the threat of organised labour against the company. The job adverts also mentioned the monitoring of ‘hostile political leaders’. It grouped organised labour with hate groups and terrorism.

The company - which has a market value of over $1 trillion - deleted the posts after they were first reported by Vice News and has since stated: “The job post was not an accurate description of the role – it was made in error and has since been corrected.”

A group of trade unions representing more than 12 million workers have expressed growing concern about Amazon’s anti-union action and called for a European commission investigation into Amazon’s “potentially illegal” attempts to spy on workers for union activities.

Leila Chaibi, a French MEP who signed the letter in Bezos,  said that she’d heard multiple stories from Amazon workers in the EU and other places that they felt pressure against unionising.

“They don’t speak the same language but they all use the same words,” she said. “They are afraid of losing their jobs.”

Repeated retaliation against organisers during COVID-19

It is not the first time that Amazon workers have claimed to have been targeted by the company for taking collective action. At least six whistleblowers in the US claim to have been fired for involvement in protests or petitions against the company, asking them to improve conditions in the Coronavirus pandemic.

Chris Smalls was fired after he led a walkout at a New York Amazon facility demanding the cleaning of one of the company’s warehouses where an employee had tested positive for COVID19. Bashir Mohamed says that he was fired after he circulated petitions to his colleagues about the impossibility of practicing social distancing in the warehouse in Minnesota where he worked.

Critics say that such crack-downs not only violate union rights but put workers at risk. In early October, the company announced that almost 20,000 US employees had tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic (equivalent to two-thirds of its entire workforce in the UK). Leaked studies showed that the rate of COVID cases inside one Minnesota warehouse was at least four times that of the surrounding community.

Rise of union busting

European trade unions say that they fear the growth of union busting in Europe, as has already been seen in the US.

“The revelations have been accumulating over the past weeks: the corporation led by the richest person in the world is spying on some of the lowest-paid workers in the EU,” said Oliver Roethig, the regional secretary of UNI Europa, part of the UNI Global Union federation.

“Amazon has led the raid on workers’ rights, using its data-monopoly power to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. Now it is ramping up its espionage operations. Its abuses call for special attention. It is time for the EU to act.”

Ethical Consumer continues to call for a boycott of Amazon over its tax avoidance practices.