Amazon.com Inc. threatened to stop activity at its fulfillment centers in France after a court order banned the sale of non-essential goods, concluding the retailer isn’t doing enough to protect staff from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The $1.1 trillion company was given 24 hours on Tuesday to comply with the ruling to reduce its activity to sell only essential items such as food and hygiene products, and to upgrade its health security procedures. The company faces fines of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) for each day’s delay.
Amazon said it was considering lodging an appeal but such a move wouldn’t suspend the order that will be enforced on Wednesday early afternoon. Amazon said the court’s ruling “leaves us perplexed” since it said it has provided employees with security measures.
“Our interpretation suggests that we may be forced to suspend the activity of our distribution centers in France,” Amazon said in a statement. “The court gave categories that are very general and create ambiguity that would be too hard to implement, this is a complex business to run” a spokeswoman for Amazon told Bloomberg.
Representatives from the CFDT and CGT labor unions told Bloomberg the company informed employees that the activity at the six French fulfillment centers may stop as soon as Wednesday and resume Tuesday next week. Employees will be on a partial unemployment scheme, with full pay, the unions said they were told by Amazon. The company didn’t immediately comment on employment details.
Pressure on the Seattle-based giant to upgrade its health security plans has increased across its fulfillment centers. In France several workers have been tested positive for Covid-19. Labor minister Muriel Penicaud demanded late last month an improvement to the working environment for the firm’s employees, saying that “protection conditions are insufficient.”
“We believe it’s good news. It will give us time to negotiate more seriously and upgrade health safety measures,” said CFDT labor union representative Julien Vincent. “Employees are going on partial unemployment but paid 100%, the company told us. We must focus on our work conditions.”
Amazon “evidently failed to comply with obligations to protect the health of employees,” judges said in their Tuesday ruling. The court also said the retail platform should carry out a more thorough evaluation of the coronavirus risks in its warehouses.
The U.S. giant’s share price has been one of the standout performers as the pandemic forces store closures, amplifying e-commerce demand. Earlier this week, Amazon said it would hire an additional 75,000 workers in the U.S. The company already filled 100,000 previously announced temporary and full-time positions.