Amazon.com relies on extensive worker surveillance to boost employee output and potentially limit unionisation efforts around the United States, says a major research group.
In a study focusing on antitrust and monopoly power of technology companies, Washington-based Open Markets Institute claims Amazon uses navigation software, item scanners, wristbands, thermal cameras, security cameras and recorded footage to surveil its workforce in warehouses and stores.
It says Amazon moves employees around in what could be an attempt to limit union organising.
For example, it creates heat maps and uses data such as team-member sentiment and a diversity index to figure out which stores may have a higher risk of unionising, OMI’s report says.
This can have an impact on workers’ ability to advocate for better working conditions and push for collective action.
Companies across industries use data on their workforce to boost output and have increased surveillance during the coronavirus pandemic to track employees and maintain a healthy workforce, and also to track time they spend working as more people telecommute.
Amazon has previously faced scrutiny for how it treats its workers.
A company spokesman said it has expectations from its employees and measures performance against those expectations.
“Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour,” the spokesman said on Monday.
“We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve,” he added.
Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at OMI and a former New York assistant attorney general, said: “Our aim is to show how the tremendous imbalance of power between employers and workers gets exacerbated by an alarming increase in surveillance.”
The paper says invasive forms of surveillance should be prohibited and employers such as Amazon should obtain approval from state and federal agencies for non-invasive tracking measures that don’t harm workers.