In a significant development, the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) has imposed a €32 million ($35 million) fine on Amazon’s local warehouse operator, Amazon France Logistique. The penalty comes in response to the company’s use of what the regulator deems an “excessively intrusive” surveillance system to monitor the activities of its workers.
The CNIL’s statement on Tuesday revealed that Amazon provided warehouse staff with scanners that meticulously recorded periods of inactivity and the speed at which certain tasks were performed, including item retrieval and storage. The surveillance system, according to CNIL, was considered “excessive” as it measured work interruptions with remarkable accuracy, potentially requiring employees to justify every break or interruption.
Amazon responded by expressing strong disagreement with the CNIL’s conclusions, stating on its European Union site, “Warehouse management systems are industry standard and are necessary for ensuring the safety, quality, and efficiency of operations.” The company also emphasized the importance of tracking inventory and processing packages in line with customer expectations.
The scanners, used in France, measured the time between scanning consecutive items, aiming to prevent errors associated with scanning too quickly. Amazon defended this practice, asserting it was crucial to ensure employees followed safety guidelines and inspected parcels adequately. However, in response to the CNIL’s concerns, the company decided to deactivate the collection of this specific data.
The CNIL’s findings also highlighted that workers were considered “idle” if their scanners remained inactive for at least 10 minutes. Amazon argued that this data helped identify problems impacting operations or employee safety, but the company has now committed to raising the threshold for logging “idle time” to 30 minutes.
The regulator concluded that Amazon’s surveillance systems subjected employees to constant pressure and provided the company with a competitive advantage in the online sales market. The fine was levied in late December after multiple investigations into the firm’s warehouse practices and employee complaints. The CNIL found Amazon had retained performance data for 31 days, a duration deemed “excessive,” resulting in a breach of EU data protection law.
While Amazon faces ongoing scrutiny in the United States for working conditions within its warehouses, the recent fine in France underscores the growing global concerns over the balance between workplace surveillance and employee rights.