Amazon Warehouses: Corporate Giant accused of labour law violations

Amazon Warehouses: Corporate Giant accused of labour law violations
Amazon Employees in India, suffering under harsh labour regimes.

Warehouse workers, employed by the corporate juggernaut Amazon, are bearing the brunt of the company’s highly inequitable employment practices. Employees, particularly those with menstrual pain,  are suffering under highly authoritarian labour practices are Amazon warehouse facilities in India. 

 

A recent report by Rejimon Kuttappan of The Quint World, has revealed that Amazon India warehouse workers are being forced to stand continuously for their 10-hour shifts at their facilities, even when suffering from menstrual pains. An Amazon employee stated:

 

“Whether the pain is mild or severe, we are forced to stand continuously during our 10-hour shifts. At most, we get a few minutes to place or change a sanitary pad. The pain in our abdomen worsens, and our legs swell, but we have to keep standing and meeting our targets. If we don’t, they block our ID cards and deny us work in all Indian warehouses”

 

In January, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India, seeking to establish a directive for all states to enforce a menstrual leave policy for female students and working women under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. However, this was quickly dismissed by the Court, suggesting the petitioner approach the Ministry of Women and Child Development for further consideration. 

 

Although menstrual leave policies aren’t widespread, with few countries like Spain, Japan, and Zambia providing them, companies must take responsibility to ensure equitable and inclusive workplaces themselves. This includes accommodating those who are menstruating who are uncomfortable at work. According to the Amazon worker, employees are entitled to one 60-minute break, split into two 30-minute breaks. 

 

However, those employed at Amazon India warehouses often find themselves standing in queues and going through security checks, leaving them with only 15 minutes to eat and drink. When they need to go to the toilet, particularly those who are menstruating, are shouted at by supervisors and receive negative ratings for “disobeying them”. 

 

Suggesting a systemic problem for Amazon warehouses, similar experiences are reported by workers at another facility in Haryana, where receiving negative ratings three times results in termination and a ban from employment at all Amazon facilities in India. In a recent revelation from anonymous warehouse staff members, people were forced to pledge they would not take breaks from work, explicitly forbidding drinking water and going to the bathroom to meet their targets. According to a statement from a woman employed at the warehouse, on a particularly busy day, a “manager instructed us to hold our arms out and pledge: ‘We will not take any breaks, we will not stop to drink water or go to the bathroom until we meet our targets.’”. 

 

In response, Amazon have called these reports “an isolated incident”, further stating; “there’s nothing more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of our employees … we comply with all relevant laws and regulations”.

 

Adding discrimination, even those who are pregnant face the same brutal employment practices. Both Amazon workers interviewed by Kuttappan, claimed that pregnant women are often unlawfully terminated to avoid providing maternity leave. 

 

These employment practices breach The Factories Act, 1948 (Chapter 5), as well as, the ILO’s C183, Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (No. 183) and R120 Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Recommendations, 1964 (No. 120). The Factories Act incorporates provisions to ensure the welfare of female workers, including the establishment of canteens, restrooms, first aid boxes, and facilities for sitting, washing and storing clothes within the factory premises. The ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention shields the rights of those who are, or have been, pregnant. Preventing contract termination “during her pregnancy or absence on leave” in relation to the right to Maternity Leave (Article 4 and 5). The Hygiene Protection Recommendations, though a supplement to the Convention, declares that a “sufficient supply of wholesome drinking water or of some other wholesome drink should be made available to workers”. 

 

Lalitha Rajput, head of the Lucknow-based Mahila Sewa Sakthikaran Samithi Labour Rights Organisation, emphasised that the exploitation of Amazon warehouse workers is known, and something the organisation has been fighting against. She stated:

 

“Companies like Amazon treat workers like machines, denying even menstruating women the rest they need despite their pain”.

 

In response to Kuttapan’s investigation, an Amazon spokesperson denied that their warehouse working conditions are unjust and uncomfortable. They claimed that their facilities are “industry-leading, designed to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment for our employees and associates. We offer a comprehensive menstrual leave policy for women associates, providing leave provisions and other facilities. All Amazon fulfillment centres have an AMCARE unit for associates who show symptoms of sickness with immediate access to resting space, heating pages, and medical assistance from qualified nurses”.

 

Amazon’s response underscores a clear disconnect between company policies and their actual implementation. The disturbing revelations about the treatment of female workers in Amazon’s Indian warehouses highlight the urgent need for both national and company-specific policy reforms and meaningful enforcement. To address these issues at a national level, the Ministry of Women and Child Development should draft and enforce legislation mandating menstrual leave for all working women, similar to policies in Spain, Japan and Zambia. This would provide women with the necessary time off during their menstrual cycles without fear of losing their jobs or facing discrimination. 

 

Furthermore, the government must ensure strict adherence to The Factories Act 1948 and the Maternity Protection Convention 2000, and to take into consideration the Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Recommendations. In particular, ensuring the provisions pertaining to the welfare of those workers who are menstruating or are pregnant are a critical aspect of maintaining labour standards. Regular inspections and severe penalties for non-compliance and discrimination should be enforced to deter companies from exploiting loopholes. 

 

In addition to strengthening labour laws, it is crucial to establish clear reporting and redressal mechanisms. Creating a robust, anonymous, and accessible reporting system for workers to file complains regarding workplace conditions without fear of retaliation is essential. Independent bodies should be established to investigate these complaints and ensure swift action against violators. 

 

Moreover, mandatory health and safety training for all employees should be implemented to empower them with the knowledge to recognise and report violations and protect their well-being. 

 

For Amazon specifically, several company-level reforms are required. Amazon, beholden to domestic labour laws and committed to ILO standards, as stated by their own site:

 

“Our approach on human rights is informed by international standards; we respect and support the Core Conventions of the International Labour Organisation, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”.

 

In addition to complying to these laws, impACT implores Amazon to revise their break policies to ensure adequate rest periods for all workers, especially those experiencing menstrual pain, as a first crucial step. This must first begin with an admittance that these factories are operating in non-compliance to ILO and Indian domestic labour laws, and be properly investigated further.

 

Next, strengthening the existing AMCARE units by ensuring they are adequately staffed with qualified medical professionals and equipped with necessary medical supplies, including menstrual products, pain relievers, and heating pads, will also enhance on-site health facilities. 

 

Additionally, the implementation of flexible working conditions, such as allowing workers experiencing severe menstrual pain to take short rest breaks or perform less physically demanding tasks, can make a significant difference. This flexibility could involve temporary shifts to desk-based roles or lighter duties. 

 

Conducting regular audits and employee surveys is essential in assessing the effectiveness of workplace policies and identifying areas needing improvement. Ensuring transparency by publicly sharing the results and the steps taken to address any issues is also crucial to this. 

 

Finally, enforcing zero-tolerance policy for any form of discrimination or harassment is essential. Establishing clear consequences for violations will ensure accountability at all levels of the organisation.  By adopting these comprehensive recommendations, Amazon and other companies can significantly improve the working conditions for their female, as well as, all other employees, ensuring a more equitable and humane workplace. National policy reforms will provide stronger legal framework to protect workers’ rights across all industries, creating a more just and supportive environment for all workers. 

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