The Ugly Truth About Amazon and Online Retailers

Permanently Temporary: The Truth About Temporary Labor

VICE News (2014)

Film Review

This is a shocking documentary about the seedy world of temporary warehouse workers who supply America’s big box retailers (eg Walmart, Kmart, Nestle), as well as online merchants such as Amazon. Because they’re technically contract labor employed by staffing agencies, workers have no employment rights. In addition to making minimum wage ($8 per hour), they can be dismissed for complaining about sexual harassment or workplace safety, talking to reporters or failing to use staffing agency vans to get to work. Filmmakers describe one incident in which a temporary worker was accidentally doused with acid and the warehouse refuse to call 911. In the end, a co-worker drove him to the hospital in his truck.

Seventy percent of US consumer goods are imported from overseas. They all end up in super warehouses, where temporary workers unpack, sort and repack and label them. At Christmas, Amazon fills 300 order per minute, all thanks to a vast army of temporary labor. Despite being referred to as “temporary,” some of these laborers have worked in the same warehouse as long as fifteen years.

Most of the temps interviewed in the film are fully aware they’re being maltreated but have no other job options. Since the 2008 downturn, the temp industry is America’s fastest growing industry. Streets in immigrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Chicago are lined with temporary staffing agencies. The latter prey on immigrants because they have limited English and tend to be naïve about their employment rights. In Chicago, vans called “raiteros” charge workers $8 each way for driving them to work, plus an additional charge for cashing their paychecks.

Since watching this video, I’ve opted to boycott Amazon (I boycotted Walmart and K-Mart several years ago). I hope others will, as well. I have absolutely no desire to help fuel this brutal exploitation. In future, I will stick with local, or at least New Zealand, retailers who don’t rely on sweatshop labor conditions to make a profit.