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My week as an Amazon insider

It is the world's biggest online business. But with questions

being asked about its treatment of employees, what is it like to
work at Amazon? Carole Cadwalladr lands a ob in one of its
giant warehouses and dis!o"ers the human !ost of our lust for
!onsumer goods
On my second day, the manager tells us that we alone have picked and packed 155,000 items
in the past 24 hours. Tomorrow, 2 Decemer ! the usiest online shopping day o" the year !
that "igure will e closer to 450,000. #nd this is $ust one o" eight warehouses across the
country. #ma%on took &.5m orders on a single day last year. 'hristmas is its (ietnam ! a test
o" its corporate mettle and the kind o" challenge that would make even the most e)perienced
distriution supply manager reak down and weep. *n the past two weeks, it has taken on an
e)tra 15,000 agency sta"" in +ritain. #nd it e)pects to doule the numer o" warehouses in
+ritain in the ne)t three years. *t e)pects to continue the growth that has made it one o" the
most power"ul multinationals on the planet.
,ight now, in -wansea, "our shi"ts will e working at least a 50.hour week, hand.picking and
packing each item.
/or a week, * was an #ma%on el"0 a temporary worker who got a $o through a -wansea
employment agency. #ma%on is the "uture o" shopping1 eing an #ma%on 2associate2 in an
#ma%on 2"ul"ilment centre2 ! take that "or doulespeak, 3r Orwell ! is the "uture o" work1
and #ma%on4s payment o" minimal ta) in any $urisdiction is the "uture o" gloal usiness. #
"uture in which multinational corporations wield more power than governments. #ma%on is
success"ul "or a reason. *t is rilliant at what it does. 2*t solved these huge challenges,2 says
+rad -tone. 2*t mastered the chaos o" storing tens o" millions o" products and "iguring out
how to get them to people, on time, without "ail, and no one else has come even close.2 5e
didn4t $ust pick and pack more than 155,000 items on my "irst day. 5e picked and packed the
right items and sent them to the right customers. 25e didn4t miss a single order,2 our section
manager tells us with proper pride.
*t4s here, where actual people ru up against the usiness demands o" one o" the most
sophisticated technology companies on the planet, that things get messy. *t4s a system that
includes unsystemisale things like hopes and "ears and plans "or the "uture and children and
lives. #nd in places o" high unemployment and low economic opportunities, places where
#ma%on delierately sites its distriution centres ! it received 67.7m in grants "rom the 5elsh
government "or ringing the warehouse here ! despair leaks around the edges.
The process is e)plained and a selection o" people are interviewed. 28ike you, * started as an
agency worker over 'hristmas,2 says one man in it. 2+ut * 9uickly got a permanent $o and
then promoted and now, two years later, *4m an area manager.2
#ma%on will e taking people on permanently a"ter 'hristmas, we4re told, and i" you work
hard, you can e one o" them. There are "our agencies who have supplied sta"" to the
warehouse, and their reps work "rom desks on the warehouse "loor. 5alking "rom one
training session to another, * ask one o" them how many permanent employees work in the
warehouse ut he mishears me and answers another 9uestion entirely0 25ell, oviously not
everyone will e taken on. :ust look at the numers. To e honest, the agencies have to say
that $ust to get people through the door.2
*t does that. *t4s what the ma$ority o" people in my induction group are a"ter. * train with ;ete
! not his real name ! who has een unemployed "or the past three years. +e"ore that, he was a
care worker. <e lives at the top o" the ,hondda (alley, and his partner, -usan =not her real
name either>, an unemployed *T repair technician, has also $ust started. *t took them more than
an hour to get to work. 25e had to get the kids up at "ive,2 he says. #"ter a 10?.hour shi"t,
and aout another hour4s drive ack, e"ore picking up the children "rom his parents, they got
home at @pm. The ne)t day, they did the same, e)cept -usan twisted her ankle on the "irst
shi"t. -he phones in ut she will receive a 2point2. *" she receives three points, she will e
2released2, which is how you get sacked in modern corporatese.
#nd then there4s 28es2, who is one o" our trainers. <e has a special, coloured lanyard that
shows he4s an #ma%on 2amassador2, and another that says he4s a "irst aider. <e4s worked at
the warehouse "or more than a year and over the course o" the week * see him, speeding across
the "loor, going at least twice the rate *4m managing. <e4s in his A0s and tells me how he lost
two stone in the "irst two months he worked there "rom all the walking. 5e were told when
we applied "or the $os that we may walk up to 15 miles a shi"t. <e4d een a senior manager in
the same "irm "or &2 years e"ore he was made redundant and landed up here. <ow long was
it e"ore you got a permanent $o, * ask him. 2* haven4t,2 he says, and he holds up his green *D
adge. ;ermanent employees have lue ones, a etter hourly rate, and a"ter two years share
options, and there is a sutle apartheid at work. 2*" you have a lue adge you have etter
wages, proper rights. Bou can e working alongside someone in the same $o, ut they4re
stale and you4re $ust cannon "odder.
5hy haven4t they given you a proper $o, * ask 8es, and he shrugs his head ut elsewhere
people mutter0 it4s "riends o" the managers who get the $os. *t4s <, picking names at random.
*t4s some sort o" lack magic noody understands. 5alking o"" shi"t in a great wave o" orange
high.vis vests, * chat to another man in his A0s. <e4d een working in the Cnity mine, near
Death, he told me, until a month ago, the second time he4d een laid o"" in two years. <e4d
worked at #ma%on last 'hristmas too. 2#nd they $ust let me go straight a"ter, no warning or
anything. #nd * couldn4t have worked any harderE * worked my socks o""E2
5hen * put the 9uestion to #ma%on, it responded0 2# small numer o" seasonal associates
have een with us "or an e)tended period o" time and we are keen to retain those individuals
in order that we can provide them with a permanent role when one ecomes availale. 5e
were ale to create 2,&00 "ull.time permanent positions "or seasonal associates in 201& y
taking advantage o" 'hristmas seasonality to "ind great permanent employees ut,
un"ortunately, we simply cannot retain 15,000 seasonal employees.2
*t4s worth noting that agency workers are not #ma%on employees.
There4s no dout that it is hard, physical work. #s an agency worker, you4re paid 1@p an hour
over the minimum wage ! 6A.50 ! and the shi"ts are 10? hours long. +ut lots o" $os involve
hard, physical work.