French court rules against Amazon on health and safety grounds

A French court has ordered Amazon to stop selling all items beyond groceries, toiletries and medical products or to face a €1 million a day fine until it comes up with a safety plan to protect its employees from coronavirus.

The online giant has had the judgement suspended pending an appeal. Court action was brought against Amazon by the Sud Commerce union after the hospitalisation of one Amazon employee, and virus diagnoses among several of its workers. The union contended that this was due to unsafe working conditions.

“While the prime minister last March ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and activities bringing together more than 100 people simultaneously, due to the coronavirus epidemic, Amazon continues its activity as if nothing had happened,” a union spokesperson said alongside the lawsuit. “Despite not only the mobilisation of staff and formal notices from unions, inspection and occupational health, but also criticism from the ministers of economy and labour.”

Amazon immediately appealed against the ruling, securing a suspension of the requirements of the court until conclusion of the appeal.

In a statement, Amazon said: “We disagree with today’s decision by the Nanterre court and are currently assessing its implications for our French logistics sites. We will also continue to work with all stakeholders and provide the necessary clarifications as we have done since the beginning of this unprecedented crisis.”

The judgement was levelled at health and safety failings on the part of the online giant rather than it materially breaching government policy limiting retail sales to essential products. The judges said it had “evidently failed to comply with obligations to protect the health of employees”.

Amazon has been slammed in countries around the world for its practices and earlier this week admitted one of its employees had died of COVID-19 late last month. There have been clusters of infections at its sites, with its Staten Island, New York site having 14 positive tests and many more cases among staff there being suspected.

There has been dissent among Amazon employees and the company has responded harshly to those calling for change. Three employees at the centre of one protest have been fired.