EU Policy. Exclusive: Unions seek privacy probes over Amazon’s work surveillance systems

A worker collects goods for purchase orders at a storehouse of the Amazon Logistic Center in Germany.
A worker collects goods for purchase orders at a storehouse of the Amazon Logistic Center in Germany. Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
By Cynthia Kroet
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The tech giant received a data protection fine in France last year for monitoring employee activity.


Trade unions from 11 different European countries have written to data protection authorities across the bloc asking them to investigate Amazon’s data surveillance practices, according to a letter seen by Euronews today (7 May).

The union leaders, from European countries where Amazon’s warehouses employ significant numbers of workers – including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Spain – question the online marketplace’s use of surveillance and algorithmic management. They claim that the tech giant uses hand scanners, activity monitoring software, video cameras, GPS devices and other tracking technologies, which has consequences on workers’ mental and physical health.

The unions therefore ask the national data protection authorities to follow the example of France. In December 2023, following an investigation the French Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) imposed a €32m penalty on Amazon France Logistique. 

The company was found in violation of the EU data protection rules by creating an “excessively intrusive system” for monitoring employee activity and performance, along with penalties for inadequate video surveillance protocols.

An Amazon spokesperson said that they "strongly disagrees" with the CNIL conclusions, and calls them factually incorrect.

"We have filed an appeal before the Council of State. 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 spokesperson said. 

Amazon was also hit with a €746m fine for processing personal data in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the Luxembourg data protection authority in 2021.


Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, said in a statement to Euronews that the workers management systems “undermine the trust between workers and management but also highlight a systemic disregard for our privacy laws.”

“It's high time that we stand up and demand that these multinational companies respect workers' personal data and their right to a dignified workplace. We need robust action now to ensure that our laws are fully enforced," Roethig said.

In a response, an Amazon spokesperson said today that the company is "proud of the investments" made to ensure that the work environments are modern, engaging, and safe.

"We are committed to using technology to enrich the experience of our employees, supporting them in their roles and helping us deliver for customers. We take data privacy seriously and believe that our existing policies and processes are compliant with national law and EU regulations," the spokesperson said. 


The letter comes as the marketplace also finds itself in the crosshairs of EU lawmakers. Last month, five social-democrat politicians visited Amazon facilities in Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, after representatives from the e-commerce platform were banned from entering the European Parliament following a call from the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) after the company failed to attend a series of hearings and factory visits in 2021 and 2023. 

During the visits, conducted together with trade union representatives, the lawmakers wanted to hear more about working conditions from employees. 

Amazon saw its 14 Parliament access badges withdrawn in February, and no new ones will be issued until further notice. Sarah Tapp, a spokesperson for Amazon told Euronews at the time that the company remains open for a “constructive dialogue on issues facing the logistics industry, and [Amazon] remains committed to engaging with the [EMPL] Committee".

In a blogpost published last month – with the opening of Amazon’s Operations Innovation Lab in Italy – Sarah Rhoads, the company’s Vice-President Global Workplace Health & Safety, stressed its continued focus on investment, innovation, and invention on behalf of safety.

“Employees are the heart and soul of our operations which is why the technology we deploy at our sites is always focused on serving our team and making our operations safer. Our continued investment in robotics helps reduce employees' physical workload and repetitive tasks that can cause injuries, while also helping them gain new skills that can advance their career,” Rhoads said. 

This story has been updated to add an Amazon statement on the CNIL case and today's letter.

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