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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 August 15 - 21  > Workers exploited under Amazon’s glory (Part 3)
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2018 August 15 - 21 [LABOR]

Workers exploited under Amazon’s glory (Part 3)

July 31, 2018

The Amazon Odawara fulfilment center in March 2014 experienced yet another death. The victimized worker, a stower restocking shelves with merchandise, collapsed in a locker room. The third victim, also a stower, died in June 2016 after being taken to hospital.

Like a steam bath

It happens every day that someone suffers a heat stroke, according to a worker who used to work at the facility.

The word "faint" comes up frequently on the Odawara FC online discussion site: someone today fainted away, some may die again; it's boiling heat; it's totally normal here that many persons a day faint due to heat strokes; the four seasons here are summer, summer, summer, and spring; a picker fainted twitching, this can happen to me one day; an ambulance often comes, labor inspectors should also come; I don't know if they survived but many people one after another fainted today; if you want to kill yourself, come to Amazon; the temperature in the mezzanine floor reaches 36 degrees Celsius; Amazon doesn't believe in offering workers a comfortable temperature to work in.

Okawa Akira, a former Odawara FC worker, said that during his days in Amazon, the entire center was like a "steam bathroom". The facility was so large that air-conditioning systems did not work properly. In addition to this, the heat from electrical equipment and sweat from workers made the indoor air hot and humid perpetually. He recalled that he was sweating profusely and was thoroughly soaked to the skin. Even after the center's air-conditioners were upgraded, the severe damp heat continued depending on the time of day and location.

More than 20km a day

What is more severe is the long walking distance.

In the Odawara FC, the truckyard and packing area are on the ground floor, and from the second to the fifth are the storage floors. The shipping process at the Odawara FC after a consumer buys items through the Internet is this: a picker finds the ordered items from storage racks somewhere on the 2nd-5th floors and carries them on a trolley; a stower refills the racks; a packer packs the picked-up items into a cardboard box and puts them on a belt conveyer which conveys the package to the truckyard.

The Odadwara FC is a gigantic facility. The packing area is distant from the belt conveyers so the workers have to walk long distances back and force. However, nobody knows how far they walk or how many steps they walk in a day because smartphones and pedometers are prohibited. Okawa said, "I felt like I walked 20 kilometers a day. I couldn't regain my physical strength without a day off every three days."

Pickers, stowers, and packers alike walk long distances daily. The weight of a trolley and the selected items strain the lower part of their bodies. A cardboard box if filled with books and bottled products exceeds 60 kilograms sometimes and a trolley with these cardboard boxes weighs several hundred kilos. With only one person per trolley, many people are forced to quit due to strained backs and stress fractures.

Amazon Japan, in response to an Akahata interview, said that it places safety first, offers accident-prevention training, is improving the working environment, providing proper temperature control, installing water and sports drinks devices, and setting rest breaks adequately.
(To be continued)
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