A trove of more than two dozen internal Amazon reports reveal in stark detail the company’s obsessive monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements in Europe, particularly during Amazon’s “peak season” between Black Friday and Christmas. The reports, obtained by Motherboard, were written in 2019 by Amazon intelligence analysts who work for the Global Security Operations Center, the company’s security division tasked with protecting Amazon employees, vendors, and assets at Amazon facilities around the world.
The documents show Amazon analysts closely monitor the labor and union-organizing activity of their workers throughout Europe, as well as environmentalist and social justice groups on Facebook and Instagram. They also indicate, and an Amazon spokesperson confirmed, that Amazon has hired Pinkerton operatives—from the notorious spy agency known for its union-busting activities—to gather intelligence on warehouse workers.
Internal emails sent to Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center obtained by Motherboard reveal that all the division’s team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event (and in some cases a turnout rate of those expected to participate in a labor action), and a description of what happened, such as a “strike” or “the distribution of leaflets.” Other documents reveal that Amazon intelligence analysts keep close tabs on how many warehouse workers attend union meetings; specific worker dissatisfactions with warehouse conditions, such as excessive workloads; and cases of warehouse-worker theft, from a bottle of tequila to $15,000 worth of smart watches.
The documents offer an unprecedented look inside the internal security and surveillance apparatus of a company that has vigorously attempted to tamp down employee dissent and has previously been caught smearing employees who attempted to organize their colleagues. Amazon’s approach of dealing with its own workforce, labor unions, and social and environmental movements as a threat has grave implications for its workers’ privacy and ability to join labor unions and collectively bargain—and not only in Europe. It should also be concerning to both customers and workers in the United States and Canada, and around the world as the company expands into Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, and India.
Amazon intelligence analysts appear to gather information on labor organizing and social movements to prevent any disruptions to order fulfillment operations. The new intelligence reports obtained by Motherboard reveal in detail how Amazon uses social media to track environmental activism and social movements in Europe—including Greenpeace and Fridays For Future, environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s global climate strike movement—and perceives such groups as a threat to its operations. In 2019, Amazon monitored the Yellow Vests movement, also known as the gilet jaunes, a grassroots uprising for economic justice that spread across France—and solidarity movements in Vienna and protests against state repression in Iran.
“Like any other responsible business, we maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe,” Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard. “That includes having an internal investigations team who work with law enforcement agencies as appropriate, and everything we do is in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities. Any attempt to sensationalize these activities or suggest we’re doing something unusual or wrong is irresponsible and incorrect.”
Levandowski denied that Amazon hired on-the-ground operatives, and said that any claim that Amazon performs the described activities across its operations worldwide was “N/A.”
In a report from November 2019, however, an analyst wrote that Amazon hired Pinkerton spies who were “inserted” into a warehouse in Wroclaw, Poland, to investigate an allegation that management coached job candidates on how to complete job interviews and possibly even conducted the process for them.
The report refers to the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States supplied detectives to infiltrate unions and hired violent goon squads to intimidate workers from engaging in union activity in steel mills. Today, Pinkerton is a subsidiary of the Swedish security company Securitas AB, and has supplied operatives to monitor strikes in West Virginia as recently as 2018.
“It’s not enough for Amazon to abuse its dominant market power and face antitrust charges by the EU; now they are exporting 19th century American union-busting tactics to Europe,” Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a global federation of trade unions that represents more than 20 million workers, told Motherboard. “This is a company that is ignoring the law, spying on workers, and using every page of the U.S. union-busting playbook to silence workers’ voices.”
Since Amazon posted job listings for two intelligence agents who could track “labor organizing threats,” journalists have obtained more documents that reveal some of the sophisticated technology and strategies the company has used to surveil its workforce and gain intelligence on worker organizing. In September, Motherboard obtained evidence that Amazon had been using a social media monitoring tool to spy on dozens of private Facebook groups for Amazon Flex drivers in the United States and Europe. Last month, a report in Recode revealed that Amazon has made significant investments in a new geospatial tool that tracks threats to the company. Out of 40 or so data points Amazon that tracks at least half are labor or employee-related, including “Whole Foods Market Activism/Unionization Efforts,” “union grant money flow patterns,” “and “Presence of Local Union Chapters and Alt Labor Groups.”
You know, it would be a good idea to put someone’s head on a pike at the beginning of the Biden administration, and Jeff Bezos would be a particularly good guy to make an example of.
If the Feds could take down Capone, they can take down Bezos.