With millions of Americans staying home, many are turning to online shopping to meet basic needs or make “comfort purchases.”
According to Content Square, a digital analytics company, online traffic for retail companies like Amazon has increased by 15 percent on a global scale since the beginning of January, when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to present itself as an international problem.
While people are allowed to shop however they please, they should also consider the effects increased online retail shopping has on workers. Many of these companies have unethical labor practices that put workers at risk.
Amazon warehouses, for example, have been an unsafe place to work even before the pandemic, according to former employees. For each 10-hour shift, employees have only two 15-minute breaks.
The Atlantic magazine and Reveal, an investigative journalism organization, interviewed an Amazon warehouse employee who disclosed her stressful quotas.
The employee was required to scan an item every 11 seconds, which is over 300 items each hour. If she missed her quota, Amazon would know, since the company was tracking employee scan rates.
These demanding conditions can lead to a high rate of workplace injuries. At the Staten Island, New York, warehouse, the cause of injuries ranged from falling boxes to tripping over ladders, according to a 2019 Gizmodo article. Bruises and sprains are considered common injuries for an Amazon worker.
In November 2019, New York City warehouse employees produced a petition for Amazon to increase their break times and safety regulations.
The 600 workers who signed the petition had cited a high risk of injury, at 12 injuries per 100 full-time employees. These rates are three times the national average, according to figures reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Workplace injuries could worsen further as employees try to keep up with the higher demands the pandemic is requiring.
Now, over 130 Amazon warehouses have had employees test positive for COVID-19, and more than 300 employees have pledged to not show up to work in protest. Workers have complained about feeling as if they are not being considered when it comes to safety regulations and are asking for paid sick leave during this time.
Now more than ever, we need to be aware of where our products are coming from and the work that goes into delivering them. This requires taking action to show support for Amazon workers.
While warehouse conditions are awful, Amazon employees still require a paycheck to make ends meet. A helpful way to respect Amazon employees while still providing them with an income is to support their demands for better working conditions.
This includes signing petitions that urge COVID-19 exposed facilities to shut down, standing in solidarity with workers by not shopping on Amazon when they go on strike and limiting the purchases of nonessential items.
A Facebook group called “Prime Member Solidarity with Amazonians United” sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding paid sick leave, childcare pay and subsidies, 1.5 times hazard pay among other things for COVID-19 workers.
After criticisms from lawmakers and public officials, an April 10 Wired article said Amazon now allows its employees to use a two-week emergency paid sick leave if they suspect to have COVID-19.
It makes sense to shop online at this time, but every consumer needs to be conscious of the effects their purchases have on the people who produce them. Essential workers, like those who work in Amazon warehouses, deserve to be recognized and respected for going to work and risking their health for our easement.
Teegan Oshins is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.