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Case Details

Case Code: HROB203
Case Length: 18 Pages 
Period: 2015-2020   
Pub Date: 2019
Teaching Note: Available
Price:Rs.400
Organization : Amazon.com, Inc.
Industry :Retailing
Countries : United States, United Kingdom,Australia, Germany, France
Themes:  Industrial Revolution 4.0/ Ethics in Information Technology/ Compensation Policy/ Logistics & Supply Chain
Case Studies  
Business Strategy
Marketing
Finance
Human Resource Management
IT and Systems
Operations
Economics
Leadership & Entrepreneurship

Amazon.com, Inc. and the Human Cost of Fast Shipping

This case was a Finalist in the prestigious XVIII Dark Side Case Competition, 2019, organized by Critical Management Studies division of Academy of Management.
 

ABSTRACT

 
The case discusses the grueling working conditions in the warehouses of the online retail giant, Amazon.com, Inc. The targets set for the workers were so stringent that some of them urinated in bottles to save time by avoiding going to the toilet. Those who picked goods to be delivered to customers were known to walk around 10 miles on a daily basis. Workers were cautioned against talking to one another and even pregnant women were reported to have been made to stand for the full duration of their shifts. The case describes how Amazon’s warehouses were perceived to be risky places to work given the disproportionately large number of ambulance call-outs at these warehouses. The working conditions also seemed to have a negative effect on the mental conditions of the workers. The case discusses the stringent delivery targets given to the delivery drivers which resulted in several of them not taking toilet breaks – they instead urinated in bottles and exceeded speed limits on the road. The case goes on to discuss the alleged low level of wages paid to the company’s workers. The wages in some cases were so low that some of the workers in the UK were forced to live in tents near the warehouses to avoid paying private transporters for conveyance. In the US, the inadequacy of Amazon’s wages could be gauged from the several number of its workers who were dependent on state assistance. The case details the pressure brought on Amazon by, among others, Senator Bernie Sanders to increase its wages. The company seemed to have budged when it raised the hourly wage rates of its workers in the US and the UK. Observers, however, were disappointed with Amazon doing away with stock option grants and variable compensation pay. The case raises the question of how Amazon, which was one of the world’s most valuable companies in terms of market capitalization, could be forced to improve the working conditions of its workers and whether consumers had a role to play in bringing about a positive change..
 
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Issues

The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:
  • To examine the tensions between maximizing profits under market capitalism and providing humane working conditions.
  • To examine whether the pursuit of the high level of efficiency at Amazon is at the cost of exploitation of its workers.
  • Understand the dark side of high performance work systems.
  • Understand the reasons why, in several instances, workers are not able to force companies to improve the working conditions.
  • Understand the role that regulators, citizens and customers play in perpetrating the exploitation of workers and how they can force companies to end the exploitation.
Contents
INTRODUCTION
BACKGROUND NOTE
DYSFUNCTION AT AMAZON?
OTHER WORKERS JOIN IN
MIRRORING THE EXPLOITION
DOWN UNDER
A DANGEROUS PLACE TO WORK?
RAISING THE SCRUTINY?
DRIVING THEM MAD
LABOR UNREST IN EUROPE
DRIVING THEM MAD
LABOR UNREST IN EUROPE
MONEY MATTERS
IS THE NOOSE TIGHTENING AROUND AMAZON?
A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR THE WORKERS?
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK?
EXHIBITS

Keywords

Industrial relations, Collective bargaining, Working conditions, Unionization, Compensation, Business ethics, Exploitation of labor, Marxism, Labor process theory, Market Capitalism Model, Dark side, High performance work systems, Stakeholder theory, Countervailing Forces Model"

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