Amazon hit by €32m fine for ‘excessive’ staff monitoring

amazonAmazon’s staff surveillance techniques – branded “bruising” by the UK GMB union – have sparked a €32m (£27m) fine in France following an investigation by the data protection watchdog CNIL which ruled the practice was “excessively intrusive”.

The investigation, which was triggered by complaints from employees as well as media coverage of conditions, found that each warehouse employee is equipped with a scanner – dubbed the Stow Machine Gun – which documents in real-time what they are doing.

Each scan carried out by employees results in the recording of data, which is stored and which makes it possible to calculate series of indicators providing information on the quality, productivity and periods of inactivity of each employee, individually.

However, CNIL found that the scanner illegally alerted management of worker inactivity exceeding 10 minutes “right up to the second” and also raised an alert if a parcel was scanned too fast, in less than 1.25 seconds.

Meanwhile, the time between employees entering the warehouse and starting work was also monitored and workers had to regularly justify breaks, CNIL said.

Slamming the company’s practices, including the fact that staff were not adequately informed of the surveillance, CNIL ruled that Amazon France Logistique was in breach of GDPR on four counts, including a breach of the principle of data minimisation (article 5.1.c); a breach of lawfulness of processing (article 6); a breach of the obligation of information and transparency (articles 12 and 13); and a breach of the security obligation (article 32).

CNIL said Amazon already had access to lots of data to achieve quality and safety in its warehouses, and called the system “excessively intrusive”. It also noted that tracking employees so closely could lead to them having to justify even a brief interruption of scanning.

Amazon said the findings were “factually incorrect” and said it reserved the right to appeal. The systems are in place “to guarantee security, quality and efficiency”, the firm claimed.

However, it has agreed to disable the system monitoring handling speeds and extend idle time alerts from 10 minutes to 30.

In response to the French ruling, the GMB union which represents Amazon’s UK warehouse workers, said the company’s staff were facing similar issues in this country, including “bruising levels of scrutiny and surveillance”.

Meanwhile, the GMB has confirmed that workers at Amazon’s new distribution centre in Birmingham have voted to join ongoing strike action at the company over working conditions and pay. Around 100 workers at the warehouse will take strike action on January 25, despite the union not being formally recognised by the US company.

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