World News

Amazon ordered to limit French trade to essential goods

By Gwénaëlle Barzic and Sarah White

PARIS (Reuters) – Amazon <AMZN.O> will have to limit its deliveries in France to essential goods like food and medical supplies while it carries out a more thorough assessment of the risk of coronavirus contagion at its warehouses, a French court ruled on Tuesday.

Some worker unions have been calling for the complete closure of Amazon’s activities in France, or at the very least a clampdown, after raising concerns over health standards at its shipping sites, arguing they were too crowded.

The U.S. online retailing giant, which has repeatedly said it adheres to health guidelines, said it disagreed with the ruling, adding it was still evaluating the implications for its French logistics centres.

It said it had brought in temperature checks for workers in France like elsewhere and distributed face masks and sanitiser gel.

The court said Amazon had not always done enough to ensure safety distances were respected, based on checks by labour inspectors at various sites.

In the ruling, seen by Reuters, judges added the company had not thoroughly assessed the contagion risk of employees passing packages to each other.

Amazon will now have to work with employee representatives to carry out such checks and revise its protocols.

In the meantime, it has 24 hours to curtail any shipments passing through its warehouses, limiting them to groceries, hygiene products and medical items – and faces a penalty of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) per day of delay in complying.

Representatives of the Sud trade union welcomed the ruling, saying they hoped it would lead to cutbacks in the number of products being shipped by Amazon for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

“If they content themselves with sending what is strictly necessary, workers will be able to respect social distances,” Tatiana Campagne, a Sud representative at Amazon’s Lauwin-Planque site in northern France, told journalists.

Amazon has already restricted the scope of products to be given priority in its warehouses in several countries, including France, though these still included items such as books.

The Amazon website has also been receiving many orders for craft kits and home-improvement goods during France’s broad lockdown to contain the coronavirus. Some employees said that, in recent weeks, they were packing video games and sex toys.

Workers have clashed with Amazon in France and elsewhere over the extent to which protective guidelines are implemented. The company has reported a handful of virus cases among staff.

Amazon has also been contending with a surge in demand worldwide and on Monday said it would hire 75,000 more U.S. workers for jobs ranging from warehouse staff to delivery drivers.

(Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic, Sarah White and Dominique Vidalon; Editing by David Goodman and Mark Potter)