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Report Questions Worker Safety Due to Excessive Surveillance

Report Questions Warehouse Worker Safety Due to Excessive Surveillance

April 16, 2024
An Oxfam report says Amazon's and Walmart's technology is harming workers.

A report, At Work and Under Watch released on April 10 from Oxfam, said that more than half of workers surveyed—54% at Amazon and 57% at Walmart—reported that their production rate makes it hard for them to use the bathroom.

The group said the "excessive use of surveillance technology in their warehouses erodes workers’ rights and jeopardizes workers’ health, safety, and well-being. According to the report, these surveillance systems hold warehouse workers to "inhuman and unsustainable productivity standards." 

Oxfam’s report outlines how surveillance creates a constant pressure for productivity that places a “cognitive tax” on workers, resulting in dangerous health and well-being outcomes and a fear of repercussions for falling behind on production standards or taking breaks. Nearly three-quarters—74%—of both Amazon and Walmart workers surveyed described feeling pressure to work faster at least some of the time. 

“Amazon and Walmart are making record profits on the backs of warehouse workers by exploiting them through oppressive surveillance practices,” said Abby Maxman,  CEO of Oxfam America, in a statement. “This research shows the links between electronic monitoring and increased rates of worker-reported injury, isolation, exhaustion, discrimination, and negative mental health outcomes – all of which disproportionately impact women and workers of color. It’s time for Amazon and Walmart to ditch their harmful surveillance policies and start prioritizing worker well-being.”

Oxfam’s analysis highlights the key ways warehouse surveillance is negatively impacting workers at Amazon and Walmart:

  • 72% of Amazon workers and 67% of Walmart workers report “how fast [they] work” is measured in detail by company technology always or most of the time. The national average is 58%.
  • 78% of Amazon workers and 62% of Walmart workers report that technology can “tell if [they] are actively engaged in [their] work” always or most of the time. The national average is only 47%.
  • Half (52% of Amazon workers and 50% of Walmart workers) report feeling burned out from their work. At Amazon, Black women workers reported experiencing burnout in higher numbers than any other group (62%).
  • A greater percentage of women always felt pressure to work faster than men at both companies—44% versus 38% for Amazon and 48% versus 42% for Walmart. Women of color at Amazon and Walmart report adverse impacts at even higher rates.

Oxfam is calling on Amazon and Walmart to take crucial steps to address the health and safety problems surveillance causes for warehouse workers:

  • Cease or significantly reform their use of worker surveillance technologies that enforce unsafe standards in their warehouses.
  • Ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for their workers.
  • Adopt new measures to reduce injury rates, such as ensuring productivity standards do not prevent workers from necessary bathroom and rest breaks.

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