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EU lawmakers ask Jeff Bezos if Amazon keeps an eye on politicians

A cross-party group of MEPs has written to Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, demanding information on the online retailer’s monitoring of trade union activists and politicians in response to deleted job postings that described unions as “threats”.

The letter, from 37 members of the European parliament, said they were concerned Amazon deliberately targeted workers seeking to organise, and also questioned whether the company had “spied” on politicians.

Trade unions last week called for a European commission investigation into whether Amazon’s monitoring of workers was legal, after two job posts on the US company’s website advertised “intelligence analyst” roles that referred to “labor organizing threats against the company”. The advertisements, aimed at candidates with law enforcement or military experience, also mentioned the monitoring of “hostile political leaders”.

The posts grouped organised labour with hate groups and terrorism, two illegal activities, and listed French and Spanish language skills among the preferred qualifications, suggesting European workers could be targets.

Amazon deleted the posts after Vice News first reported on them. A spokeswoman said: “The job post was not an accurate description of the role – it was made in error and has since been corrected.”

The letter to Bezos, coordinated by Leïla Chaibi, a French MEP from the leftwing La France Insoumise party, expressed concerns about “increasing warnings about your company’s anti-union policy”. The MEPs, mainly from leftwing and green parties, represent constituencies across the EU, including in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The letter said: “We are concerned about whether European trade unions, as well as local, national or European elected representatives, are affected by this approach to ‘threat monitoring’, which aims to repress collective action and trade union organising.”

Amazon is one of the largest private-sector employers in the world, with more than a million employees catering for the ever-increasing demand for online shopping that has been boosted during the pandemic.

The share price gains made by Amazon have swelled Bezos’s personal wealth by $79bn (£61bn) during 2020 to $189bn, making him the world’s richest person, according to Bloomberg.

The MEPs wrote: “The exponential growth of Amazon’s profits since the beginning of the global pandemic does not allow you to exonerate yourself from respecting fundamental legal principles.”

Trade unions have warned repeatedly of a pattern of opposition to workers organising. Amazon workers’ rights have come under particular scrutiny during the pandemic after multiple coronavirus outbreaks in warehouses. Amazon last week belatedly reported that almost 20,000 US workers were presumed to have caught the virus.

Chaibi said it was “very, very surprising” that Amazon had referred to terrorists, union organisers and politicians in the same sentence. She added that Amazon workers from around the EU and beyond had repeatedly told hearings that they felt pressure against unionising.

“They don’t speak the same language but they all use the same words,” she said. “They are afraid of losing their jobs.”

Christy Hoffman, the general secretary of the UNI Global Union, which represents service workers, said the job adverts revealed a “deep-seated […] anti-union ideology” at Amazon.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “We already have works councils and employee bodies at Amazon. The fact is we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. At Amazon, these benefits and opportunities come with the job, as does the ability to communicate directly with the leadership of the company.

“We encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers in the communities we operate in. For us, it will always be about providing a great employment experience through a direct connection with our employees and working together as a team to provide a world-class customer experience.”

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