French Court Halts Amazon’s Delivery Of Non-Essential Products During Pandemic To Protect Workers

French Court Halts Amazon’s Delivery Of Non-Essential Products During Pandemic To Protect Workers
A French court told Amazon that it would not be allowed to deliver non-essential items until it resolved the safety concerns presented by unions. Above, an employee at an Amazon warehouse in France. (Photo: Philippe Lopez, Getty Images)

A French court has ruled that Amazon will only be allowed to deliver health items, food, pet food and electronics in France in order to protect the safety of its workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The company will be banned from delivering nonessential products for the time being.

The ruling was issued by the Versailles Court of Appeals on Friday, which upheld the findings of a lower court last week. The lower court had determined that Amazon had poor safety conditions at its warehouses, including a lack of hand sanitizer and face masks. These measures, the unions that filed the court case argued, put workers’ lives in danger. Amazon disagreed, and presented its appeal to the Versailles Court.

The lower court ordered Amazon to stop all shipments of nonessential products or face a $US1.1 ($2) million fine for each day it was not in compliance. Amazon proceeded to shut down its warehouses in France and furlough 10,000 workers with pay.

According to Reuters, Amazon’s six warehouses in France, which have been shut down since April 16, will remain closed until April 28. Staff will receive their full pay while Amazon determines how to operate. Amazon will not be allowed to deliver nonessential items until it carries out a risk evaluation of the sites with French unions, the New York Times reported.

The appeals court said that Amazon would be fined approximately $US108,000 ($169,096) for every delivery that falls out of the product categories established by the court. In a statement to Reuters, Amazon said its distribution centres in France were safe and blamed unions.

“Our distribution centres in France and around the world are safe,” Amazon said. “[The court decision] reinforces our idea that the main issue is not so much security, as the will of certain trade union organisations to take advantage of a complex consultation process with social and economic committees.”

Union officials disagree and say that companies need to abide by the law. They add that the ruling is a warning to other companies during the pandemic.

“Just because this is a giant U.S. company, it doesn’t mean it should not have to make efforts during this crisis. It is not above the law,” Laurent Degousee, a part of the SUD union in France, told Reuters.

Amazon has also faced problems over conditions in its U.S. warehouses, where the company came under fire for not supplying its workers with protective equipment and for keeping warehouses open even when workers there had tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The company began performing temperature checks and providing face masks to all its workers in the U.S. and Europe in early April following concerning reports about employee safety and pressure from lawmakers. It has also installed thermal cameras at some of its U.S. warehouses in order to detect fevers, one of the most common symptoms of covid-19, faster.

Not all Amazon workers agreed with the union lawsuit. Per the Times, many workers are worried about losing their jobs, which is especially worrying in this economic landscape. Thousands have signed a petition asking for the reopening of the company’s warehouses. Currently, Amazon is fulfilling orders for customers in France with its warehouses in Germany, Belgium and other European countries.