10:26, April 15 164 0 theguardian.com

2020-04-15 10:26:03
Amazon sales of 'non essentials' hit by French court ruling

Amazon must stop selling “non essential” items or face a fine of €1m a day until it can come up with a safety plan to protect the health of its employees, a French court has ruled.

The ruling, which has already been suspended pending appeal, required the company to only accept orders for groceries, toiletries and medical products as part of the wider lockdown imposed in France.

The company was sued by the Sud Commerce union after the hospitalisation of an Amazon employee, virus diagnoses at several sites, and suspected infection of “dozens” more workers prompted the union to declare the company unsafe to work for.

“While the prime minister last March ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and activities bringing together more than 100 people simultaneously, due to the coronavirus epidemic, Amazon continues its activity as if nothing had happened,” a union spokesperson said alongside the lawsuit. “Despite not only the mobilisation of staff and formal notices from unions, inspection and occupational health, but also criticism from the ministers of economy and labour.”

Amazon immediately appealed against the ruling, securing a suspension of the requirements until conclusion of the appeal.

In a statement the company said: “We disagree with today’s decision by the Nanterre court and are currently assessing its implications for our French logistics sites. We will also continue to work with all stakeholders and provide the necessary clarifications as we have done since the beginning of this unprecedented crisis.”

The bulk of the criticism of the firm, in the case, was levied at its health and safety failingsThe judges said it had “evidently failed to comply with obligations to protect the health of employees”.

The company has come under criticism worldwide for its failings, and on Tuesday admitted that one of its employees had died of Covid-19 in late March.

Dozens of Amazon warehouses have experienced clusters of infections. One, on New York’s Staten Island, had at least 14 positive tests, and workers said the true figure was far higher.

The outbreaks have caused internal dissent, which Amazon has so far responded to harshly: three employees who were at the centre of internal protests have been fired, though the company denies a connection between their complaints and terminations.

What’s sold where

France and Italy

Amazon temporarily,late March, stopped taking orders for some non-essential products in France and Italy, in a move to implement social distancing guidelines at the company’s dispatch centres in those countries. Now the company says it is “prioritising” essential products in those countries, but non-essentials continue to be available.

US

A few days before the French limits Amazon told third-party sellers in the US that it would not let them stock non-essential items in its warehouses. The company provides a service, Fulfilled by Amazon, which entails handling shipping for independent companies, but on 18 March it limited that to only essential items sold by those firms. Last week, an investigation by the newsroom The Markup revealed that some items stretched the definition: “You could still order a bowling ball, a 10-pack of rubber chickens and a prom dress, and have them show up at your door within a week”. On Monday Amazon lifted the non-essential ban.

UK

Amazon has not implemented an absolute ban on non-essentials in the UK but has said it wwill prioritise essential items. In practice, that means that Amazon Prime customers, who pay an annual fee for next-day delivery, now have to wait up to a week for items such as novelty bottle openers or garden shovels; most items through the store can be delivered by Monday if bought before the end of the previous Wednesday. The company’s dry food delivery service, Pantry, continues to offer next-day shipping, while its online supermarket, Fresh, has limited delivery slots.

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