Amazon's working practices are coming under the spotlight after a BBC documentary sent an undercover reporter to work in one of its depots. Adam Littler, a 23-year-old journalist who was employed as a "picker," said that he walked 11 miles during one night shift, was expected to pick up an order every 33 seconds, and had to work in silence. When he showed the footage he filmed using a hidden camera to Michael Marmot, a public health specialist who works for the World Health Organization, the professor told him that such work could cause mental and physical illness.
While the mechanical Turk-ness of Amazon's depots is old news, the medical judgment will raise new questions about how Amazon treats its employees (pay is $10.50 per hour for a day shift, rising to $13.36 per hour for a 10-and-a -half-hour night shift). Professor Marmot is unequivocal about the effects on employees in such working conditions. "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness," he told the BBC. "There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and well-being—it's got to be balanced."
When approached by the BBC, Amazon reiterated that the safety of its workers is its "number one priority" and said that it had checked out the legality of the long night shifts. The picking job undertaken by Mr. Littler was, it said, "similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness."
You can see what the inside of another Amazon "Fulfillment Center" in the U.K., this one in Rugeley, looks like here.
[Image of Amazon's Neath, Swansea, depot: Flickr user bloodymonday--yes, we know the feeling]