• Undercover author: Amazon warehouse workers pee in bottles, culture like 'prison'

    By: KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    An undercover author said working in an Amazon fulfillment center is like "a prison," where workers were peeing in bottles because they did not have enough time to go to the bathroom. 

    James Bloodworth, as part of his book "Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain," spent almost a month in 2016 working as a "picker" at a fulfillment center in Rugeley, England, where he retrieved items for delivery.

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    In addition to his undercover work at Amazon, Bloodworth also took jobs in social care, at a call center, at a building site and even as an Uber driver to research how people cope at their workplace. 

    According to Bloodworth, Amazon fulfillment workers had to meet high productivity targets that were feasible only if they ran around the warehouse. Running around the warehouse is something Amazon does not allow for safety reasons.

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    "The job itself is really bad," Bloodworth told Business Insider. "I've worked in warehouses before, but this was nothing like I had experienced. You don't have proper breaks — by the time you get to the canteen, you only have 15 or 20 minutes for lunch, in a 10-1/2-hour working day. You don't have time to eat properly to get a drink.

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    "You have to go through security when you leave the warehouse, and that adds five minutes. It's like an airport — belt off, watch off. The atmosphere is what I imagine a prison feels like. You felt like you were walking on eggshells."

    Bloodworth's claim that workers were so busy that they had to pee in bottles sparked widespread outrage on social media on Monday.

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    Bloodworth told The Sun, a news company in the UK, that "workers often didn't take a break to go to the toilet because they were too sparse to get to quickly and they feared punishment for missing productivity targets. So they peed in bottles instead."

    "If you're on the top floor, you know it will take five minutes to go the toilet, and all the time you're being admonished for taking too much idle time," Bloodworth said. 

    Bloodworth explained how he came across a bottle of urine while searching for items on an upper floor of the warehouse.

    "One day I'm walking down the aisle, and I go to pick up an item, and there's a bottle of straw-colored water on the shelf. And at first I thought, 'Oh, what's that?'" he said. "And then it was very obvious what it was. And there was a pool of water next to it. It struck me — it was so obvious why someone would do that."

    According to Business Insider, Amazon said that it doesn't time warehouse workers' toilet breaks and that it ensures they can reach the bathrooms easily.

    In a statement sent to Business Insider, Amazon responded to Bloodworth's criticisms of the working conditions inside their fulfillment center. 

    The full statement from Amazon is included below: 

    "Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are committed to treating every one of our associates with dignity and respect. We don't recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.

    "We have a focus on ensuring we provide a great environment for all our employees and last month Amazon was named by LinkedIn as the 7th most sought-after place to work in the UK and ranked first place in the US. Amazon also offers public tours of its fulfillment centres so customers can see first-hand what happens after they click 'buy' on Amazon.

    "Amazon has a range of initiatives to support our people if they become ill at home or at work and we recently extended these to include improved on-site support. We recognize that there are times someone cannot come to work, even if they want to. If someone is ill, we want to help them get back to work when they are fit to do so. We no longer have a points-based attendance policy — we changed it following feedback from out our associates. If someone is sick, we will have a conversation with them to understand their own individual circumstances. We completely support our people, and use proper discretion when applying our absence policy.

    "As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce. Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour. We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve.

    "Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Associates are allowed to use the toilet whenever needed. We do not monitor toilet breaks

    "The pay rate for permanent Amazon's fulfillment centre employees in the UK increases over their first two years of employment, after which time all employees earn £8.35 an hour and above. All permanent Amazon fulfillment centre employees are given stock grants, which over the last five years were on average equal to £1,000 or more per year per person. Employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package, including private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals and an employee discount, which combined are worth more than £700 annually, as well as a company pension plan.

    "Amazon also offers employees an innovative programme called Career Choice that provides funding for adult education, offering to pre-pay 95% of tuition and associated fees for nationally recognised courses, up to £8,000 over four years."

    Click here to read more from Bloodworth on Business insider. 

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