Is Amazon Spying on Labor and Environmental Groups?

A series of reports uncovered by Motherboard revealed that Amazon intelligence analysts at its Global Security Operations Center were closely monitoring staff’s labor and unionizing activities throughout Europe, alongside social justice and environmental groups across social media.

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The leaked documents, written in 2019, show the organization’s tireless snooping around its “peak season” (Black Friday–Christmas), and the company’s reliance on Pinkerton – an infamous spying agency with a history of anti-union activity. The relationship between Amazon and Pinkerton, and its alleged spying on workers, has seen the organisation and its activities likened to 19th-century worker oppression, with Christy Hoffman (General Secretary of UNI Global Union) stating:

[[post-object type=”blockquote” author=””]]It’s not enough for Amazon to abuse its dominant market power and face antitrust charges by the EU; now they are exporting 19th century American union-busting tactics to Europe[[/post-object]]

One set of “peak-risk assessments” documented potential threats to the company as workers were more likely to strike during the period. This is due to increased injury rates and risks during the rush to meet demand.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Amazon has been caught skulking in the shadows. In fact, the company was caught red-handed in an attempt to smear employees who attempted to organize. Such attempts to oppress staff and invade their digital privacy raise serious questions about the company’s ethics, and the true extent to which it is operating.

The company claims the actions are intended to “highlight potential risks/hazards that may impact Amazon operations, in order to meet customer expectation”, and to “maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe” (according to Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon). However, we question whether the ends justify the means, and whether employee organization will genuinely affect customer expectation – surely they should account for the customer expectation of how they treat their workers.

In short, Amazon’s actions offer a disturbing insight into a wider failure of respecting its workers’ digital privacy.

[[post-object type=”blockquote” author=”Oregon Senator Ron Wyden”]]The magnitude of this surveillance, the lengths to which Amazon has gone to keep it hidden from its own workers, and its admitted purpose are extremely disturbing.[[/post-object]]

So where do we go from here? Well, Unions are arguing that the company’s actions in the EU are leading to a human rights crisis. EU advisors are questioning whether it breaches EU data collection and labor laws. All in all, Amazon’s questionable invasion of data privacy has clearly invoked European fury, and could land the company in some very hot water.