French Court Orders Amazon to Suspend Non-essential Sales

Employees observe social distancing due to coronavirus, at the entrance of Amazon, in Douai, northern France.
Employees observe social distancing due to coronavirus, at the entrance of Amazon, in Douai, northern France.
Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — A French court has ordered Amazon to stop selling, receiving or delivering non-essential goods for the next month to protect its employees from the virus.

Amazon protested Tuesday’s emergency ruling, while unions hailed it as a victory for workers' rights and public health.

The ruling requires Amazon to evaluate health risks at all its facilities around France and negotiate new safety measures with worker representatives. Amazon must suspend its non-essential trade within 24 hours or face 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in fines per day. Sales of food, medicine and hygiene supplies are still allowed.

Online giants like Amazon have clashed for years with European legal systems, and virus safety measures have become the latest battleground. The decision also serves as a reminder to governments and companies that essential workers are worried, and that restarting economies while the virus is still spreading will be a delicate undertaking.

“It is a great victory for us,” said Tatiana Campagne of union SUD, which filed the legal complaint alongside environmental group Amis de la Terre. “We feel that the health of workers was taken into account.”

Several walkouts and protests have drawn attention to fear and discontent among low-wage workers on the front lines of the pandemic, particularly those packing and delivering groceries and other essentials.

In the French case, the court stopped short of halting all activity at Amazon's six French warehouses, as unions had sought.

But the court found that despite repeated visits from labor inspectors, Amazon didn't do enough to enforce social distancing, to ensure that turnstiles and locker rooms were virus-free, or to increase cleaning of its warehouses. Unions say one worker infected with the virus is in intensive care.

Amazon France said the company « disagrees with the decision” and is “evaluating its implications for our French logistical operations.”

“Nothing is more important than the security of our staff," it said in a statement.

Amazon dominates the online delivery market in France, with 431 million euros in sales in 2018 and more than 10,000 employees, and has seen demand explode in in the U.S. and around the world since virus confinement measures were imposed. France's lockdown began a month ago and is set to last at least until May 11.

In New York last month, Amazon fired a worker who organized a walkout to demand greater virus protection, saying the employee himself flouted distancing rules and put others at risk.

The Seattle-based company said it has taken aggressive steps to protect its employees from the virus, including cleaning and distancing measures.

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