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Get Amazon Out Of 160 Co-op Stores

Thursday, August 14, 2014

GMB To Launch Campaign With Co-Operative Members To Get Amazon Lockers Removed From 160 High Street Co-Operative Stores

Why a business would allow a competitor like Amazon floor space is hard to understand as the Co-operative has a real cuckoo in the ethical nest says GMB.

GMB, the union for staff at Amazon, is to launch a campaign with Co-operative members to get the group to remove Amazon lockers for 160 of its High Street stores. Amazon delivers packages purchased online to these Co-operative stores and consumers can collect them from the lockers.

GMB has alerted the Co-operative Group as to the employment record of Amazon and has challenged the reasons given by the Co-operative Group for the partnership with Amazon. Set out in notes to editors 1 below are details of correspondence between GMB and the Co-operative Group on the matter.

Amazon employs 7,000 permanent staff and about 10,000 casual staff in the UK. It also employs 5,000 seasonal staff. Amazon has operations in Croydon, Doncaster, Dunfermline, Gourock, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Rugeley, Swansea, Slough and Holborn in London. The vast majority of the 22,000 staff are paid £6.39 per hour with the permanent staff starting on £7 per hour.

Amazon plans to double the number of warehouses it operates in Britain in the next three years.

GMB has being warning the public that the high tech way Amazon process orders and tracks inventory disguises that it is also a traditional labour intensive mail order retail business. See notes to editors 2 below for some GMB views on Amazon.

Martin Smith, GMB National Officer, said “GMB has had no further response to the points we raised in April with the Chief Executive’s office.

We will intend take the issue to the wider membership of the Co-operative movement. Why it allows a competitor like Amazon floor space is hard to understand as Co-operative has a real cuckoo in the ethical nest.

We had a letter published in Co-operative News setting the ethical and trading issues and why the Co-operative Group should end their relationship with Amazon. This was broadly welcomed by other Co-operative activists though there was a letter published by a committee member in North London attacking the GMB position.

Freedom of association is one of the key freedoms in a democracy. Co-operative members should not be associated with Amazon while they deny their staff the freedom to combine and be collectively represented by GMB.

Co-operative members need to know that union activity in the Amazon depots in UK has to be kept underground for fear of reprisals. So hostile are Amazon that union organisation is driven underground adopting the tactics of the French resistance or human rights campaigns in totalitarian regimes.

GMB need the support of Co-operative members to ensure that Amazon improves security of employment, treats workers fairly and pays them a wage they can live on in their distribution chain in the UK and elsewhere in the EU."


Contact Jeff Beck 07980 753 112 Martin Smith 07974 251 722 or Mick Conroy GMB Scotland 07921 289737 or Andy Prendergast 07984 492 726 or Richard Owen for Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead 07974 179285 or Colin Griffiths 07957 264 612 for Rugeley. 

Notes to editors

1 Correspondence between GMB and Co-operative Group

Paul Clarke, GMB lead officer for members at Amazon and an elected member in the Co-operative movement wrote to new Interim Chief Executive Richard Pennycook on 19th March 2014, as follows: “GMB are currently conducting a campaign on behalf of our members within Amazon. We have uncovered slave like working conditions, poor levels of pay, hire and fire culture with agency workers turning up for work to be told they are not required and sent home and draconian working conditions in their warehouses. Their rampant tax avoidance and massive public subsidies are well documented.

We are concerned that a self-styled 'Ethical Business' like the Co-operative now have many Amazon Lockers located at your stores and would query what background checks you carried out on this business before entering into a contract with them. Further what is the term of this contract?”

Nick Folland, Chief External Affairs Officer at the Co-operative replied on 21st March, as follows: “Here at the Co-operative Group we strongly consider balancing our ethical values when making decisions relating to our businesses’ operations. Elements of these values include; keeping communities thriving, inspiring young people and protecting the environment.

Through our partnership with Amazon, currently placing lockers in 160 of our stores, we are meeting the needs of changing shopping habits, making our service offerings more relevant to a younger generation, giving consumers a reason to come to the high-street in their local community (where many of our stores are located) and reducing environmental impacts as the miles to deliver and collect these products are reduced.

If the Government or any regulatory authority were to look into the legality and ethics of any of our partners’ operations we would certainly take note of their conclusions. Additionally we will continue to monitor other possible products and services that meet our members’ and customers’ needs.

Paul Clarke, GMB lead officer for members at Amazon responded on 14th April, as follows: “Your email appears to indicate you are more than happy partnering an organisation which pays less than half of one percent in Corporation Tax and is heavily publically subsidised at all levels from the public purse, a competitive advantage their competitors cannot/could not enjoy hence the reason so many high street and local businesses have gone to the wall. The on-going effect is evident for all to see in every high street with an abundance of empty units.

Your justification and indeed support for this business seems at odds with what us elected members were told which was you were not aware of their poor record before entering into a contract with them. Further we were given a clear indication that this would be reviewed at contract end hence my query as to when this is?

Are you also aware that Amazon now delivers ambient foods with a view to extending this to fresh and frozen formats in the future? Why a business would allow a competitor floor space is beyond me. As I have stated elsewhere, you have a real cuckoo in the ethical nest.”

2 Some GMB views on Amazon business model, on employment and taxation:

Amazon relies on a road network funded by taxpayers for the business to business delivery of products to warehouses and for the business to customer delivery to private homes. It relies on large numbers of staff to receive the goods, to pick and pack them to meet customer orders.

Where it differs from other retailers is its refusal to pay proper taxes or to treat its workers properly.   This gives Amazon an unfair competitive advantage and is part of the reason why so many established high street names are going to the wall.

GMB is working to strip away the high tech image and expose the exploitation involved in their business model.

Many staff at Amazon are actually employed by employment agencies in casual or temporary jobs with no job security and no guaranteed incomes. Using employment to meet fluctuating demand for labour is equivalent to selection at the dock gates in Victorian times and is casual labour of the worst kind.

Amazon pays its UK staff just above the national minimum wage of £6.31 per hour. Paying a minimum wage rather than a wage workers can live on obliges taxpayers to top up wages for staff with families. Working families tax credit is a subsidy to a company like Amazon which pays little corporation taxes. 

Staff complain about a culture of bullying and harassment endemic in the dataveillance that comes from staff being required to wear digital arm mounted terminals AMTs with no agreed protocols re breaks, speeds etc.

Requiring employees to wear AMTs and subjecting them to dataveillance, while denying them union rights, takes away the consent essential for the positive use of digital arm-band devices. Members say it is human automation – they are kind of robots with no say. We need to work on improving ergonomics for our members.

GMB seeks to ensure that Amazon pays proper taxes. In 2006 Amazon transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply "order fulfilment" business to qualify for lower taxes. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs up to 22,000. GMB has called for this abuse to stop.









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