Germany probes labor practices at Amazon contractor

A TV report alleging mistreatment of foreign workers at's packing distribution centers in Germany is making waves

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  IT Management

A TV report into the lives of migrant workers employed at distribution centers in Germany has prompted the government to call for an investigation, and is pushing other companies to change their practices.

German TV channel ARD aired a 30-minute report last week, focusing on allegations of mistreatment of foreign workers hired to temporarily work in's packing and distribution warehouses.

According to the report, some workers were being paid less than what they were promised when they had applied for the job in their respective home countries and were subject to intimidation and random searches by the employees of a security firm contracted to guard the hostels where they were living.

ARD showed a temporary work contract bearing the name of Trenkwalder International, an Austrian employment agency that specializes in recruiting workers from Eastern and Central Europe.

Trenkwalder did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a statement sent to media outlets last week, Amazon said that it doesn't tolerate discrimination or intimidation and promised to investigate the claims.

The German Federal Labor Office (BA) is conducting an urgent investigation this week into the allegations made in the ARD report, a spokeswoman for the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS) said Monday. If they prove founded, the temporary job placement firm that Amazon worked with could lose its license.

The BMAS spokeswoman declined to name the company being investigated, but mentioned that it has been named in press reports. Most reports name Trenkwalder.

The ARD report alleged that security guards harassed and intimidated migrant workers at the budget hotels where they were living, and that the guards and their employer, Hensel European Security Services (HESS), had links to neo-Nazi movements.

Some of the guards were shown wearing clothes by Thor Steinar, a brand known to be favored by far-right extremists that was banned in several German stadiums and inside the German Parliament. Amazon itself stopped selling Thor Steinar clothing in 2009.

ARD suggested the company's name "HESS" might be an allusion to Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi party, and said that the firm was allegedly headed by a man known as Uwe L who had ties to known football hooligans and neo-Nazis.

One worker interviewed in the report said that the security guards told her: "This is our house. You must do like we say. Here we are like the police."

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