After huge tax evasion, here comes cyber-slavery. Amazon leads in all fronts.
Slavery in the food chain (and the exploiting of globalization)
When one talks about slavery in the food supply chain our thoughts run to developing countries. To palm oil production and fishing in South-East Asia, cocoa crops in western Africa and carnauba wax in the North-East regions of Brazil (the one that ends up in Haribo candies).
Slavery in Europe is traced back to sunny dusty fields in the South, in Italy and Spain, where migrants are exploited as fruit and vegetable pickers. The only ones to stem this debauchery, on rare exceptions, are the more responsible traders, both in the industry and the organized large-scale distribution system. The ones that define and apply inspections as a guarantee of sustainability in the supply chain. As Coop Italia – No. 1 retailer in Italy – did, starting 1998 with the adoption of the SA 8000 standard.
The young Alan Selby, journalist and marathoner, has worked undercover for five weeks in the newest Amazon warehouse in Tilbury, Essex (UK). Five weeks in the spin-cycle of immediate shipment. ‘Click to receive it now’, and the cyber-slave like a hamster runs for the product unhesitatingly in a matter of seconds. (1)
The system check and tracks timescales for managing packages as for the dropped ones. The cyber-slaves must always be on guard, on the watch, never sitting, not even when the order doesn’t come in. Under exhausting shifts, 55 hours in the busiest weeks, they cover miles under the artificial lights of the warehouse lit up 24h a day. And if the young marathoner starts getting restless, let’s imagine the others. Ambulance is in standby for the hamsters.
The environment is threatening, ‘take it or leave it’. But the protest arose and joined in, in Italy as in Germany, last December, right under the Black Friday. It’s labor strike, approximately 60% according to trade unions.
To denounce the exploitation, the labor and wear out of everyone. Physical injuries to the joints and mental troubles, because of stress. Behind the threat of a non-renewal of contracts, super-precarious.
‘A social conflicts exists but it’s not able to create a collectiveness. There’s such high fragmentation, even competition between workers. As Amazon and Ikea cases have shown, companies have gone as far as to blackmail the workers: if you accept the working conditions you don’t work.’ (Maurizio Landini, in the Manifesto, 12.2.2017)
The US giant’s answer follows an ultra-liberal script. The strikers are replaced with other backup precarious workers, meetings with trade unions are postponed to the following months. The idea is to meet individually with the single workers, thus leveraging their individual weaknesses, rather than dealing with their representatives. Divide et Impera.
Workers safety, the opinion of the labor attorney
We asked a labor attorney, Luigi Corrias member of the Milan Bar. ‘The news on Amazon’s situation doesn’t surprise all that much’ – Corrias says – ‘given that to this day, in our country, the protection of safety in the workplace does not appear effective nor common.’
‘The legal framework in terms of safety is absolutely decisive, given that health is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the Italian Republic, in Articles 2 and 32. Protection offered by laws such as the Legislative Decree 81/2008 can also be added, as regards to safety in the workplace. Furthermore, the Criminal Code provides specific sanctions in cases of work-related accidents, under Articles 431 and 451.’ (Luigi Corrias, labor attorney, Milan, Italy)
Duties to be met by the employer are also specified in the Civil Code, Article 2087. ‘The employer is required to take the measures that, according to the specific characteristics of the job, experience and technique, are necessary to protect physical safety and moral personality of the employees.’
‘Such legislation may be applied in cases like the Amazon one’ continues the attorney Luigi Corrias. ‘Situations of bad, prolonged and illegal behavior by the employer – for example the imposition of exhausting shifts, the absence of breaks, the continued obligation of extra shifts, even on nights and holidays, etc.- can integrate a violation on safety regulations. Against the civil duty of every employer to guarantee safety and not to cause harm to the employees.’
This system of protection is however de facto threatened by legislative reforms of the past years, which facilitated the appeal to working relationships that are characterized by a common instability. The ISTAT data have shown how – in spite the abolition of Article 18 of the Italian Workers’ Statute operated by the Jobs Act (2) – the fixed-term relation now represents the 80% of job contracts (along with other forms of flexibility, or precariousness).
This way it is understood why the employees, especially the precarious ones, are induced to accepting these severe and borderline working conditions (even in violation of legal and contractual regulations). And relinquish from promoting the protection of their own rights, in view of the risk of losing their only source of income.
The cyber-slavery in Amazon, on par with other forms of workers exploitation in the food supply chain, cannot and must not be tolerated any longer.
Solidarity is the only way to pursue. And if Jeff Bezos will not learn to respect the value of work as a basic mean of civilization, consumers must help him understand. From Black Friday to Red Friday, let’s boycott in order to educate.
(2) Italian Legislative Decree No. 23/2015