Amazon is facing a hefty €32m (£27m) fine in France for what the country’s data watchdog, CNIL, deems as “excessive” surveillance of its workers.
The fine follows an investigation into Amazon France Logistique, responsible for managing the company’s warehouses, where the CNIL identified several measures that violated General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The CNIL revealed that Amazon’s warehouse management system recorded data through handheld scanners used by workers.
The precision of the tracking system reached a level where employees had to potentially justify every break, creating an environment of intense scrutiny.
The watchdog found fault with a system featuring three alerts, all aimed at monitoring employee activity, deeming it illegal.
One alert triggered for items scanned too quickly, increasing the risk of errors, while another flagged breaks of 10 minutes or more. The third alert tracked breaks lasting between one and 10 minutes. The CNIL questioned the necessity for Amazon to retain workers’ data for 31 days.
Amazon claims the findings are “factually incorrect”
Amazon strongly disagreed with the CNIL’s findings, calling them “factually incorrect.” An Amazon spokesperson stated, “Warehouse management systems are industry standard and are necessary for ensuring the safety, quality, and efficiency of operations and to track the storage of inventory and processing of packages on time and in line with customer expectations.”
The CNIL highlighted concerns over Amazon’s intrusive surveillance practices, stating that the company already had access to sufficient data for ensuring quality and safety in its warehouses. The watchdog emphasized that such close monitoring could lead to workers having to justify even brief interruptions of scanning.
In addition to the excessive monitoring, Amazon was fined for not adequately informing workers and external visitors about surveillance. The CNIL also found insufficient security measures in place for Amazon’s video surveillance.
The GMB union, representing Amazon’s UK warehouse workers, responded to the ruling, stating that the company’s staff faced “bruising levels of scrutiny and surveillance.”
What does the future look like?
This is not the first time Amazon’s surveillance practices have come under scrutiny. In the UK, a similar system was highlighted, where employees with three productivity flags could potentially face termination.
The CNIL’s fine raises broader questions about the appropriateness of workplace monitoring. Paul Holcroft, Managing Director at Croner, emphasised the need for employers to consider legal and ethical implications before implementing any form of employee monitoring. Holcroft stated that failure to adhere to data protection legislation could result in substantial fines, as seen in the case of Amazon’s French division. Employers were also urged to assess the impact on employee morale and organisational culture before implementing monitoring measures.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.