The first item I see in Amazon’s Swansea warehouse is a package of dog nappies. The second is a massive pink plastic dildo. The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon’s standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK’s largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap. […]
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 December – the busiest online shopping day of the year – that figure will be closer to 450,000. And this is just one of eight warehouses across the country. Amazon took 3.5m orders on a single day last year. Christmas is its Vietnam – a test of its corporate mettle and the kind of challenge that would make even the most experienced distribution supply manager break down and weep. In the past two weeks, it has taken on an extra 15,000 agency staff in Britain. And it expects to double the number of warehouses in Britain in the next three years. It expects to continue the growth that has made it one of the most powerful multinationals on the planet. […]
If Santa had a track record in paying his temporary elves the minimum wage while pushing them to the limits of the EU working time directive, and sacking them if they take three sick breaks in any three-month period, this would be an apt comparison. It is probably reasonable to assume that tax avoidance is not “constitutionally” a part of the Santa business model as Brad Stone, the author of a new book on Amazon, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, tells me it is in Amazon’s case. Neither does Santa attempt to bully his competitors, as Mark Constantine, the founder of Lush cosmetics, who last week took Amazon to the high court, accuses it of doing. Santa was not called before the Commons public accounts committee and called “immoral” by MPs. […]
Because Amazon is the future of shopping; being an Amazon “associate” in an Amazon “fulfilment centre” – take that for doublespeak, Mr Orwell – is the future of work; and Amazon’s payment of minimal tax in any jurisdiction is the future of global business. A future in which multinational corporations wield more power than governments. […]
"They dangle those blue badges in front of you," says Bill Woolcock, an ex-employee at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Rugeley, Staffordshire. "If you have a blue badge you have better wages, proper rights. You can be working alongside someone in the same job, but they’re stable and you’re just cannon fodder. I worked there from September 2011 to February 2012 and on Christmas Eve an agency rep with a clipboard stood by the exit and said: ‘You’re back after Christmas. And you’re back. And you’re not. You’re not.’ It was just brutal. It reminded me of stories about the great depression, where men would stand at the factory gate in the hope of being selected for a few days’ labour. You just feel you have no personal value at all." […]
It’s taxes, of course, that pay for the roads on which Amazon’s delivery trucks drive, and the schools in which its employees are educated, and the hospitals in which their babies are born and their arteries are patched up, and in which, one day, they may be nursed in their dying days. Taxes that all its workers pay, and that, it emerged in 2012, it tends not to pay. On UK sales of £4.2bn in 2012, it paid £3.2m in corporation tax. In 2006, it transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply “order fulfilment” business. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs 21,000. You do the math. […]
"It’s a form of piracy capitalism. They rush into people’s countries, they take the money out, and they dump it in some port of convenience. That’s not a business in any traditional sense. It’s an ugly return to a form of exploitative capitalism that we had a century ago and we decided as a society to move on from." […]
It’s a mirror image of what is happening on the shop floor. Just as Amazon has eroded 200 years’ worth of workers’ rights through its use of agencies and rendered a large swath of its workers powerless, so it has pulled off the same trick with corporate responsibility. MPs like to slag off Amazon and Starbucks and Google for not paying their taxes but they’ve yet to actually create the legislation that would compel them to do so.