Despite its continued popularity among shoppers around the world, Amazon’s reputation has taken quite a hit in recent years. And in 2021, the multi-billion-dollar corporation has come under even greater scrutiny for mistreating its workers, many of whom report unsanitary working conditions and long shifts without breaks or restroom access. Amazon is also well known for union-busting, which prevents workers from protecting themselves on top of fighting for fair conditions and wages.
What’s more, in a move that could be construed as almost dystopian, Amazon also created fake accounts in an effort to salvage their reputation and refute worker claims. The fabricated social media accounts, full of anti-union sentiment, were quickly uncovered by internet-savvy everyday citizens. This behavior indicates that not only are Amazon executives aware of the poor working conditions that exist in some of their facilities, but that they would rather try to cover it up than treat their workers fairly.
Yet for all of Amazon’s faults, the issue of unethical working conditions isn’t confined to a single company. If one of the world’s largest corporations has little regard for working conditions and labor laws, it raises many questions: Just how prevalent is the issue? Are unethical working conditions on the rise in the modern workplace, even during a global pandemic? And if so, what potential solutions exist to help eliminate this and the various other multi-layered injustices inherent in the modern workplace?
Common Types of Unethical and Illegal Working Conditions
For starters, workers, business owners, and consumers alike should cultivate at least a basic awareness of labor laws and signs that indicate an unsafe workplace. Jobs that require mandatory overtime, long hours, and stringent adherence to corporate policies are a red flag in terms of worker treatment. And when employees are overworked, accidents are more likely to happen.
In fact, overexertion is the no. 1 cause of job-related accidents in the U.S., affecting upwards of 27 per every 10,000 workers. Accidents resulting from slips, trips, and falls are also extremely common, in various industries ranging from construction to the retail sector. Those employed in the transportation sector or who otherwise spend part of their workday behind the wheel, such as Amazon delivery drivers, put themselves at even greater risk of accident or injury.
Although unethical working conditions existed well before COVID-19 hit the scene, the global pandemic has only served to further complicate the issue. And as COVID-19 continues to impact daily life, today’s workers must also consider the health-related implications of their job.
Prioritizing COVID Safety and Health
For instance, given that numerous Amazon employees aren’t given time or permission to use the restroom during their shift, they’re also more vulnerable to a potential COVID outbreak. Frequent handwashing is considered highly effective in terms of the “physical removal of debris, germs, bacteria, and viruses.” While employees who lack regular restroom access can opt to carry and use personal hand sanitizer, the method has limitations, especially when compared to washing one’s hands with soap and warm water.
But make no mistake: Keeping workers safe from potential exposure to COVID-19 takes much more than personal sanitation habits and vigilance from individual company leaders. Rather, curbing the spread of COVID-19 requires the collective effort of citizens, communities, and lawmakers alike. Within the workplace, remote work should be encouraged whenever possible. For work that must be performed on the premises or via a delivery truck or another type of transport, mask mandates and regular sanitization are vital to the process.
Some cities have even adopted their own set of protocols designed to control the spread of infectious diseases like COVID. The concepts of space and distance are key components of this type of mindful city planning, as deadly viruses and diseases can spread like wildfire where people regularly exist in close proximity to each other. In workplace settings, similar concepts should thus apply, wherein employees are provided at least 6 feet of space in which to perform their duties, as well as given the opportunity to distance themselves if they feel unsafe. Frequent restroom access, while encouraging handwashing and other sanitary practices, can also help protect workers and keep COVID at bay.
Ensuring Worker Rights: Unions, Boycotts, and Legislation
Much like curbing the spread of COVID over the long term requires a group effort, collaboration is also required in the fight against unethical working conditions. For example, calls for Amazon boycotts have gained traction in recent months, with consumers banding together in “solidarity with unionizing employees” as recently as March. While Harpers Bazaar reports that the week-long boycott wasn’t endorsed by pro-union leaders, it served as a solid example of the power in numbers.
No matter where poor working conditions or other types of injustice exist, it’s crucial to speak out against unethical companies. U.S. labor laws were put in place in order to protect workers in every setting, from office buildings to produce fields, Amazon warehouses, and beyond. And in a world forever altered by a global pandemic, the national workforce is even more vulnerable to unethical practices from their employer.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.