December 2, 2020

Europes lawmakers ask Jeff Bezos: Does Amazon spy on politicians?

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  • European lawmakers want to know if Amazon has spied on them.
  • 37 members of European Parliament wrote to CEO Jeff Bezos about the retail giant’s moves to sniff out union activity.
  • The letter follows now-deleted Amazon job postings for staffers who would monitor threats such as “labor organizing” and “hostile political leaders.”
  • “Has Amazon already spied on Members of the European Parliament?” the lawmakers asked.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

European lawmakers have written to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos demanding to know: Does Amazon spy on politicians?

In the letter dated Wednesday, 37 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) wrote expressed concerns about Amazon’s efforts to sniff out union activity within its ranks.

“We are concerned about whether European trade unions, as well as local, national, or European elected representatives, are affected by [Amazon’s] approach to ‘threat monitoring,’ which aims to repress collective action and trade union organizing,” they wrote.

The letter focuses on two job listings, which Amazon posted then removed last month, for “intelligence analysts.”

The roles appeared geared towards union-busting. The listings said applicants would be focused on “labor organizing threats against the company” and gathering material for potential legal action against labor groups protesting the company.

The MEPs note in their letter that the job listings detailed French and Spanish language skills, “suggesting that Amazon’s monitoring would be exercised in Europe.”

In both France and Spain, labor unions have resulted in Amazon workers going on strike, and in France unions forced Amazon warehouses to close for one month over safety concerns relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the US, Amazon has been more successful in tamping down on union activity. In Europe, Business Insider reported that Amazon workers recently exchanged ideas virtually about how to organize.

“We wonder about your intentions with great concern: does Amazon’s monitoring intentionally target trade unionists, Amazon workers, as well as political representatives (including ourselves) who could possibly express criticism of its activities?” they ask.

The Amazon listings included other potential threats to the company such as “hostile political leaders,” a term the MEPs picked up on.

“We … question the definition of ‘hostile political leaders’ described in the recent job posts hitherto mentioned. Who does it concern? Has Amazon already spied on Members of the European Parliament? Did it intend to?,” the letter asks.

This follows a letter sent to the EU by union leaders on Wednesday demanding it look into whether Amazon’s alleged surveillance of unions potentially broke European labor, data, and privacy laws.

In their letter the unions also drew attention to a Vice report from September that Amazon was surveilling Facebook groups of its Flex delivery drivers.

In April, Business Insider revealed that Amazon-owned Whole Foods was quietly using a heat tool to track which of its stores was most likely to unionize.

On Monday, Recode reported on a leaked confidential Amazon memo from February of this year which shows the company has been investing in software to amass and analyze data relating to various “threats” to the company, including union organization.

“Amazon workers’ right to union representation and their right to data protection are not checked at the warehouse door,” Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the international UNI Global Union, told Business Insider.

“Amazon’s repulsive behavior towards workers who want better, safer jobs shows why unions and by regulators must act to hold the company accountable. We hope that Bezos and Amazon management take the MEP’s concerns serious and make the changes necessary to ensure workers’ rights are respected.”

You can read the full text of the MEPs’ letter here:

Dear Mr Bezos,

Recently, Amazon published two job advertisements soliciting “intelligence analysts.” These “analysts” would have been tasked with monitoring various “threats” perceived by Amazon, including, among other things, labor organizing (trade unionism).

These words appear three times amidst other categories such as “hate groups,” “terrorism,” and “hostile political leaders,” putting them on the same level.

French and Spanish language skills were requested of applicants as well, suggesting that Amazon’s monitoring would be exercised in Europe.

We wonder about your intentions with great concern: does Amazon’s monitoring intentionally target trade unionists, Amazon workers, as well as political representatives (including ourselves) who could possibly express criticism of its activities?

Because of the indignation of various actors, Amazon removed these two offers from online job boards. Amazon explained: “the job post was not an accurate description of the role – it was a mistake, and since then, it has been corrected”. How could such job offers be published?

There are increasing warnings about your company’s anti-union policy. Recently, a group of Amazon employees were fired in the United States because they organized a meeting with other employees for voicing grievances about their working conditions while the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world. On our continent, workers and trade unionists from several European countries testified that they experience pressures preventing them from organizing, that their demands fall on deaf ears, and that they live under permanent fear of firings and the threat of unemployment.

Within Amazon warehouses, intensity of tasks, a constant drive towards productivity, management based on timed control of manual gestures, and the use of blackmail on a worker’s individual performance allow you to avoid any form of workers’ collective organization. These management practices are already more than questionable. Recruiting employees to spy on potential opponents, should they be internal or external, is intolerable.

As Members of the European Parliament, we recall that the freedom of association and the right to organize are the core values of the International Labour Organisation. Respecting these rights is not optional. These fundamental conventions of our society are binding for Amazon.

We also question the definition of “hostile political leaders” described in the recent job posts hitherto mentioned. Who does it concern? Has Amazon already spied on Members of the European Parliament? Did it intend to?

We represent countries where democracy and freedom of expression cannot be challenged by any company – not even by Amazon. We are its guarantors. 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.

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 organizing.

We hope that your answer will relieve us of our concerns about union rights and political freedoms created by these recent advertisements for intelligence analysts at Amazon.