Chinese workers at Amazon Echo factory overworked and underpaid, watchdog says

Employees required to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, in violation of Chinese law, New York-based China Labour Watch says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 5:24pm

A watchdog group is calling on Amazon to improve conditions for workers at a factory in central China that makes Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers.

The New York-based China Labour Watch released a report at the weekend following a nine-month investigation of working conditions at the factory in Hengyang, Hunan province. It is owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, the company known as Foxconn, which manufactures products for Amazon.

The study offers the first behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Amazon produces voice-activated speakers that cost as little as US$40. And the picture it paints is one of low pay and intense working conditions.

The report said that employees are required to work more than 100 hours of overtime per month, in violation of China’s labour law that limits overtime to 36 hours a month. Also, the factory uses more “dispatch workers” – a term for temporary staff – than is allowed by Chinese law.

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Employees do not receive adequate safety training, and are required to arrive at their workstations 10 minutes before their shifts begin, it said, adding that they are not compensated for the extra time.

The report said also that staff dormitories lack adequate safety precautions, such as fire extinguishers.

“All workers are subject to long hours and low wages,” it said. “As wages are low, workers must rely on overtime hours to earn enough to maintain a decent standard of living.”

Amazon completed an audit of the factory in March and found violations regarding overtime and the use of dispatch workers, which it has asked Foxconn to remedy, it said in an emailed statement.

“We immediately requested a corrective action plan from Foxconn Hengyang detailing their plan to remediate the issues identified, and we are conducting regular assessments to monitor for implementation and compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct,” Amazon said. “We are committed to ensuring that these issues are resolved.”

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Foxconn did not immediately respond to requests by Bloomberg News for comment. The major electronics manufacturer in China, was criticised for poor working conditions in factories where Apple devices were made, leading to the company installing safety netting to prevent worker suicides. The findings at the Amazon device factory were similar, but less severe.

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, sells a variety of devices. Kindles and tablets help it sell more digital books. It has sold tens of millions of Echo voice-activated speakers, which can be used to dim lights, stream music and order pizza.

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Amazon has also faced criticism for working conditions in its US warehouses. One lawsuit alleged it cheated workers out of pay by making them clock off before standing in security lines for theft-prevention measures before leaving the building.

Amazon prevailed in that case before the Supreme Court, which ruled the workers were not entitled to payment for security screenings.