USA: Amazon accused of evading legal responsibility for fatalities & injuries linked to next-day deliveries; Incl. co. comments

In August 2019, Buzzfeed News published an article linking Amazon's decentralised next-day delivery network to a litany of labour violations, exploitation and fatalities as a result of intense pressure experienced by drivers to meet delivery targets. 

The following month, a ProPublica investigation identified more than 60 accidents since June 2015 involving Amazon delivery contractors that resulted in serious injuries, including 10 deaths.

In both articles, Amazon stands accused of avoiding legal responsibility for fatalities and serious injuries involving drivers delivering its parcels, as Amazon maintains its delivery drivers are not employees, but rather independent contractors hired by third-party companies. Amazon was also accused of continuing to contract with companies that have been repeatedly sued or cited by regulators for alleged labour rights violation, including failed overtime. Amazon is also accused of avoiding responsibility by remaining secretive about its operations - for example, often delivery vehicles do not display an Amazon corporate logo and the company does not disclose information on its accident rate.

In a written statement to both Buzzfeed and ProPublica, Amazon said claims made in the articles "do not provide an accurate representation of Amazon's commitment to safety and all measures we take to ensure millions of packages are delivered to customers without incident." Amazon has also said it requires all delivery service partners to maintain comprehensive insurance, so coverage is available in the event of accidents. Further comments can be found in the articles below.

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Article
10 September 2019

USA: Investigation finds Amazon 'escapes responsibility' for injuries and deaths involving delivery contractors

Author: Patricia Callahan, ProPublica

"The Delivery Race: How Amazon Hooked America on Fast Delivery While Avoiding Responsibility for Crashes", 5 September 2019

... Amazon has built a huge logistics operation…to get more goods to customers’ homes in less...time. ..[Amazon] has created a network of contractors…that allows the company to expand and shrink the delivery force as needed, while avoiding the costs of...permanent employees….

… An investigation...identified more than 60 accidents since June 2015 involving Amazon delivery contractors that resulted in serious injuries, including 10 deaths. That tally is most likely a fraction of the accidents…Many people don’t sue, and those who do can’t always tell when Amazon is involved…

…as Amazon argues that it bears no legal responsibility…it maintains a tight grip on how the delivery drivers do their jobs…often Amazon directs…the order of the deliveries and the route to each destination. Amazon software tracks drivers’ progress, and a dispatcher...can call them if they fall behind schedule...

…an operations manager for Amazon testified...that it signs…agreements with all its “delivery service partners,” who assume the liability and the responsibility for legal costs…

...Amazon…is…secretive about details of its operations…in many of the accidents involving its contractors, drivers were using cars, trucks and cargo vans that bore no hint of Amazon’s corporate logo…

…In a written statement…Amazon said: “The assertions do not provide an accurate representation of Amazon’s commitment to safety…we have invested…in safety mechanisms across our network, and regularly communicate safety best practices to drivers. We are committed to greater investments and management focus to continuously improve our safety performance.”…Amazon spokeswoman Rena Lunak sent…an additional…statement. “We require that all delivery service partners maintain comprehensive insurance,...so if in the rare case an accident does occur, there is coverage for all involved,”…

 …It’s difficult to determine the accident rate...of Amazon’s…contractors because the company does not disclose that information and much of its delivery operation falls into a regulatory void…

...drivers echoed...[a] feeling of pressure. Jeffrey Lines...testified...that when he’d delivered Amazon Prime Now packages...he couldn’t stop even to use a restroom. “You can’t get a break...Because if you take a break, you delay the orders, we get fired."...

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Article
2 September 2019

USA: Amazon's decentralised next-day delivery network linked to exploitation of drivers, labour violations & fatalities; Inc. co. comments

Author: Caroline O'Donovan & Ken Bensinger, BuzzFeed News

"The Cost of Next-Day Delivery", 31 August 2019

Valdimar Gray was delivering packages for Amazon... when his three-ton van barreled into an 84-year-old grandmother... [he] had been at the wheel... since early that morning, racing to drop Amazon packages on doorsteps throughout Chicago... Gray submitted to drug and alcohol tests, which came up clean. He would later be charged with reckless homicide.

[They]... didn’t ask Gray about the constant pressure for speed he faced as a driver for Inpax... one of hundreds of small companies that make up Amazon’s gigantic delivery network across America... [T]he company’s drivers worked under relentless demands to deliver hundreds of packages... [Amazon] refused to accept any responsibility. “The damages, if any, were caused, in whole or in part, by third parties not under the direction or control of Amazon.com,” its lawyers said...

Inpax had... been repeatedly cited by the Department of Labor for withholding pay from its drivers... [T]he company was struggling to make ends meet on the razor-thin margins of a system set up by Amazon to squeeze contractors while minimizing its own costs at every turn... But... Amazon continued using the company to deliver its packages...

Amazon drivers say they often have to deliver upwards of 250 packages a day... which works out to a dizzying pace of less than two minutes per package based on an eight-hour shift...

Amazon goes further than gig economy companies such as Uber, which insist its drivers are independent contractors with no rights as employees. By contracting instead with third-party companies, who in turn employ drivers, Amazon divorces itself from the people delivering its packages...

[Amazon] said that because many of the cases... are in active litigation, it cannot discuss them in detail. However, the company said safety is always its top priority...

Amazon denies any responsibility for the conditions in which drivers work, but it has continued to contract with at least a dozen companies that have been repeatedly sued or cited by regulators for alleged labor violations, including failing to pay overtime, denying workers breaks, discrimination, sexual harassment, and other forms of employee mistreatment... Amazon said it expects its delivery operators to comply with the law...

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