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March 26, 2021updated 29 Mar 2021 5:24pm

Amazon workers release bottled up rage against their corporate deniers

By Robert Scammell

A leaked internal memo shows that ecommerce behemoth Amazon is fully aware that its gruelling working conditions mean some of its delivery drivers are forced to urinate in bottles while on the job. Nonetheless, the company publicly denies this, against a background of increasing concern regarding gig-economy employment models in many business sectors.

On Thursday the $1.5tn company’s public relations Twitter account said: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Posted in reply to a tweet by Republican congressman Mark Pocan, Amazon’s claim quickly drew widespread criticism due to its detachment from reality.

Numerous documents, accounts and reporting have previously highlighted the unforgiving working conditions for many of Amazon’s delivery drivers – including being forced to urinate in bottles so as to save time and meet quotas.

In response to Amazon’s denial, delivery drivers sent The Intercept documents from May 2020 that showed the tech giant reprimanding its workers for urinating in bottles and even defecating in bags while out making deliveries.

“This evening, an associate discovered human faeces in an Amazon bag that was returned to station by a driver,” the email read. “This is the 3rd occasion in the last 2 months when bags have been returned to station with poop inside. We understand that DA’s [driver associates] may have emergencies while on-road, and especially during Covid, DAs have struggled to find bathrooms while delivering.”

The email continued: “We’ve noticed an uptick recently of all kinds of unsanitary garbage being left inside bags: used masks, gloves, bottles of urine.”

The Intercept went on to cite former Amazon delivery drivers who also corroborated that urinating in bottles to meet targets was widespread.

Halie Marie Brown, a former driver for an Amazon delivery contractor, told The Intercept that urinating on the job “happens because we are literally implicitly forced to do so, otherwise we will end up losing our jobs for too many ‘undelivered packages’”.

Other journalists, including James Bloodworth who published a book uncovering how urinating on the job was commonplace at Amazon, also refuted Amazon’s PR claim.

“I was the person who found the pee in the bottle. Trust me, it happened,” said Bloodworth via Twitter.

The episode marks a more combative approach from Amazon’s PR team. The official @amazonnews Twitter account has been on a replying spree to criticism of the company.

“Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety,” the Amazon account said in response to reporting that said the company is firing delivery drivers who refuse to sign a “biometric consent” form that “grants the company permission to use AI-powered cameras to access drivers’ location, movement, and biometric data”.

It comes ahead of a key vote by Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama on whether to unionise. The move is the latest drawing attention to the rights and conditions of low paid and gig economy workers, who are employed by some of the largest technology companies in the world.

This week two of the UK’s largest investors said they would not buy Deliveroo shares when it goes public due to the food delivery firm’s use of gig economy workers. A UK Supreme Court ruling recently forced ride-hailing app Uber to classify some of its drivers as employees, gaining them entitlements such as holidays and the minimum wage.

Separately, the Trades Union Congress has called for new laws to rein in the use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. The UK trade body said there were “huge gaps” in employement law when it comes to algorithms making hiring and firing decisions.

Amazon did not return a request for comment. News of tough working conditions for Amazon drivers follows a record year of sales for the company as consumers turned to online shopping in droves due to Covid-19 restrictions. It reported record annual revenue of $386bn and $21.33bn in net profit. According to GlobalData’s market intelligence, Amazon reported a net profit margin of 5.53%, up by 33.9% from 2019.