Amazon Disputes Criticism About Working Conditions in One Warehouse

An undercover BBC reporter filmed his shift in an Amazon warehouse. A stress expert said it increased the risk of mental and physical illness.

Amazon unknowingly hired undercover BBC journalist Adam Littler to be a "picker" in its Swansea, Wales, warehouse. Video covertly filmed by Littler was shown to Michael Marmot, an expert on work stress, who said the characteristics of the job show "increased risk of mental illness and physical illness," the BBC reported Nov. 24.

Amazon's pickers collect ordered items from throughout a warehouse—an 800,000-square-foot space, in the case of the Swansea location. During a 10-hour shift, Littler said he walked nearly 11 miles.

"A handset told him what to collect and put on his trolley. It allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake, the scanner beeped," said the report.

Marmot told the BBC, "There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and well-being—it's got to be balanced."

Amazon responded, posting a statement to its U.K. site Nov. 25.

"We strongly refute the charge that Amazon exploits its employees in any way. The safety of our associates is our number-one priority, and we adhere to all regulations and employment law," it said.

"Amazon has retained an independent expert who has visited our buildings and associates," it added. "In the independent expert's opinion, a picking role is similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk or mental and physical illness."

Amazon also said it offers a "raft" of benefits and described its wages, which have risen 12 percent on average annually. The company said in conclusion, "We understand that our progress depends on good execution and good judgment from thousands of employees."

Littler told the BBC, "We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings. I don't know."

Amazon Is Hiring

Amazon announced Nov. 21 that it's opening a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Windsor, Conn., that will create more than 300 jobs when it opens.

It said in a statement that its fulfillment center jobs pay on average 30 percent more than traditional retail jobs—and that's before the stock grants that full-time employees receive—and employees receive benefits, including health care, starting on day one.

"Amazon also offers full-time employees innovative programs like Career Choice, where the company will pre-pay up to 95 percent tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon," it said.

Amazon says it also has openings across North America for "thousands" of Seasonal Fulfillment Associates.

Amazon's 2012 holiday season was record-breaking, it announced in January 2013. Unit growth from sellers increased more than 40 percent year-over-year, and sellers on Amazon sold "hundreds of millions of units worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide."

Amazon kicked off its 2013 holiday season Nov. 25, launching Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals early.

"Last year, Cyber Monday was our busiest day of the year, Amazon said in statement, adding that this year, it's offering amazing deals "every day our customers are shopping for gifts this season."