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TV report alleges gruelling working conditions at online German retailer

TV journalist worked undercover at Zalando, which denies charges and sues reporter

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 5:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 5:04am

Zalando, a rising European online retailer, has hit controversy in its home country of Germany after an undercover television report claimed gruelling work conditions in one of its logistics centres.

A TV journalist took a job at Zalando for three months and secretly filmed inside the centre in the central city of Erfurt, where some 2,000 staff package products for internet shoppers.

The reporter for commercial channel RTL said she had to walk as much as 27 kilometres during her eight-hour shifts, up and down aisles in the vast centre, and was told by supervisors that sitting down for a rest was "frowned upon".

While several employees, their faces disguised, are heard complaining in the report about tough conditions as their every move is digitally monitored, a local medical worker reports that ambulances are sent for exhausted workers on an "almost daily" basis.

"We are constantly subject to controls and enormous performance pressure," said the journalist, who denounced labour law violations for the job that pays just above Germany's planned new national minimum wage of €8.50 (HK$91) per hour.

Berlin-based Zalando AG, founded in 2008, has grown into a multinational e-commerce company that sells shoes, clothing and other lifestyle products across western Europe and Scandinavia and is expanding into Poland.

The company saw its turnover rise 50 per cent to €1.8 billion last year, but has not yet reported a profit.

Similar criticism has also hit its competitors, including US-based pioneer Amazon, stirring debate in Germany about online retail giants allegedly riding roughshod over workers' rights to try to crush the competition by all means.

The company, which uses social networks heavily, rejected the charges on Facebook.

"From our point of view, the presentation of the facts does not correspond at all to the culture within the company and the employees' way of thinking," it said on its website.

It claimed that its IT system primarily served to guide the logistics system, not to monitor staff, and that workers on a typical shift cover 10-15 kilometres and "of course are allowed to take a rest if they feel unwell".

Zalando - which launched legal proceedings against the journalist for industrial espionage - also says that in an anonymous internal poll conducted by an independent institute, 88 per cent of its employees said they enjoyed working there.

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