MEPs pushing for ‘Amazon’ debate following growing concerns over worker safety

Jeff Bezos refused to take part in a recent workshop on workers’ rights but pressure on him to be quizzed by MEPs has gained traction.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 Jun 2021

Several MEPs have called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to appear before the European Parliament next week “to be held accountable for his very questionable business model.”

Deputies are also pushing for a specific debate to be held during the plenary session which starts on Monday in Strasbourg.

The demand for Bezos to appear personally, or at least online, before MEPs comes amid growing anger among parliamentarians at his company’ alleged breaches of basic working conditions for Amazon staff.

Bezos refused to take part in a recent workshop in Parliament on workers’ rights but pressure on him to be quizzed by MEPs has gained traction in the last few days with new reports about worker safety at the company.

On Thursday, one report said employees at US Amazon warehouses are injured at a higher rate than those doing similar jobs at other companies' warehouses.

The union-backed study of safety data found Amazon workers had 5.9 serious injuries per 100 people - almost 80 percent higher than the rest of the industry. The study's organisers blamed Amazon's "obsession with speed" as a main cause of the problem.

Separately, a webinar organised by the Parliament’s S&D Group heard from a study by Professor Alessandro Delfanti, of the University of Toronto, on Amazon's work practices. The study voiced “serious concerns” about the way Amazon treats its workers.

“The surge in profits registered by Amazon due to the pandemic gives us even more reason to call for thorough scrutiny into the practices of the company. European money and European workers are on the line" Pedro Marques MEP

Another study, this time commissioned by the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, questions the company’s record on paying taxes.

The research says that Amazon’s Luxembourg subsidiaries report massive operating losses from their non-American business dealings. This, it is claimed, enables the company to collect “loss carry forwards” which it allegedly turns into tax credits in the US. This, claims the report’s authors, means the company “is most likely paying little or no tax at all.”

GUE/NGL co-leader Martin Schirdewan demanded “proactive action” by the EU to “tackle tax dodging.”

S&D MEP Pedro Marques said, “It is European legislators, not companies that make the law in the EU. Amazon should keep this in mind when trampling on workers’ rights.”

He added, “European trade union leaders representing over 12 million workers signed a letter urging the European Institutions to open an investigation into Amazon’s potentially illegal activities against Amazon workers in Europe.”

“That means that there is a serious problem and if the leadership of the company refuses to be held accountable, we want to hear from the man himself. Jeff Bezos must come before the European Parliament.”

“The surge in profits registered by Amazon due to the pandemic gives us even more reason to call for thorough scrutiny into the practices of the company. European money and European workers are on the line."

Last month, the European Court of Justice ruled on the appeals against the Commission's investigations into tax deals with Amazon and French multinational ENGIE. The Commission's investigations into so-called 'sweetheart deals' with Luxembourg had found that the tax arrangements with ENGIE and Luxembourg were contrary to EU state aid rules. The Court dismissed the Commission's decision on Amazon.

"There are no current plans for a debate on Amazon, but MEPs hope the issue can still be added to what will be a “hybrid” session in Strasbourg next week. This means that MEPs will be given the option of attending personally or following proceedings online. Any parliamentary staff attending will have to quarantine on their return"

There are no current plans for a debate on Amazon, but MEPs hope the issue can still be added to what will be a “hybrid” session in Strasbourg next week.

This means that MEPs will be given the option of attending personally or following proceedings online. Any parliamentary staff attending will have to quarantine on their return.

Next week also marks President Joe Biden’s first overseas visit since his election when he visits the UK and Belgium. Biden will be in the UK to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 10 June and attend the 11 June -13 G7 summit in Cornwall before traveling to Brussels for the NATO summit on 14 June.

MEPs, meanwhile, will deal with a packed programme at the monthly plenary, including giving final approval to the EU digital COVID certificate, which aims to facilitate travel within the EU during the ongoing pandemic and contribute to economic recovery.

After a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk and a Belarusian journalist was arrested, MEPs and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will also debate the EU’s response.

MEPs will also vote on whether the EU should ask the World Trade Organisation to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines while, on Tuesday, members will discuss with the Commission and the Council the national recovery plans submitted so far by EU member states.

On Monday, members will also debate the new 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy and are expected to call for better protection of the EU’s land and sea areas in a vote.

Later in the week, MEPs will ask the Council and the Commission for details on plans to apply new rule of law conditionality rules to protect the EU budget.

On Wednesday, parliament will vote on a resolution calling for the Czech Prime Minister’s now confirmed conflict of interest to be addressed while, the following day, MEPs will also quiz the Commission on how it intends to ensure equal opportunities on the labour market for people with autism.

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