Amazon’s French warehouse operations have been hit with a €32 million ($35 million) fine by a local regulator for employing an “excessively intrusive” surveillance system to monitor its workers. The French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) disclosed on Tuesday that Amazon France Logistique provided warehouse employees with scanners that meticulously tracked their periods of inactivity and the speed at which they performed specific tasks, such as item retrieval and storage.
The CNIL deemed the scanner system “excessive” due in part to its precise measurement of “work interruptions,” potentially requiring workers to account for every break or disruption. Amazon responded, expressing strong disagreement with the CNIL’s findings and reserving the right to appeal. The company argued that such warehouse management systems are standard industry practices, crucial for ensuring operational safety, quality, efficiency, and timely processing of packages in line with customer expectations.
The scanners in use in France gauged whether a worker scanned an item within 1.25 seconds of the previous scan, under the assumption that faster scanning heightens the risk of errors, according to the regulator. Amazon justified this by emphasizing the need for employees to take sufficient time to follow safety guidelines during product storage and conduct thorough inspections before storing each parcel. However, in response to the CNIL’s concerns, the company decided to deactivate the collection of this specific data.
The CNIL also noted that workers were considered “idle” if their scanners remained inactive for at least 10 minutes, a criterion Amazon used to identify potential issues affecting operations or employee safety. Amazon has now agreed to extend the threshold for logging “idle time” to 30 minutes.
Additionally, the CNIL highlighted a third indicator used by Amazon, which flagged interruptions lasting between one and 10 minutes during a worker’s scanner usage. The regulator criticized these surveillance measures, stating that they subjected employees to constant scrutiny and pressure, providing Amazon with a competitive advantage in the online sales market.
The fine, imposed in late December, followed multiple investigations into Amazon’s warehouse practices and complaints from employees. The CNIL found that Amazon France Logistique retained performance data for staff for an excessive duration of 31 days, thereby violating various aspects of EU data protection law.
While Amazon faces ongoing scrutiny in the United States for working conditions in its warehouses, characterized by long hours and intense surveillance, this recent fine highlights similar concerns in the company’s operations in France.