Germany probes labor practices at Amazon contractor

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

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  IT Management

HESS dismissed accusations that the company has or supports right-wing views in a statement published on its website on Friday.

"The Hensel European security service (HESS) is a politically and ideologically neutral company. We expressly distance ourselves from all forms of political radicalism, both from right-wing extremism and leftism and religious fanaticism," it said.

The company said that between 30 percent and 70 percent of its staff come from immigrant families and include Christians, Muslims and Buddhists.

Any report of an employee being associated with right-wing extremist movements will be investigated and if proven true, efforts will be made, within the bounds of the law, to terminate that employee's contract, the company said.

The company said that it had been contracted by the firm handling housing accommodations for temporary workers on behalf of Amazon. The security guards are needed to resolve conflicts that might arise when a large number of individuals who don't know each other live in the same place and to protect the hostel owners from property theft or destruction, which is a frequent occurrence, the company said.

HESS does not perform illegal searches, the company said. Room searches are done in agreement with the hotel and solely in connection with the hotel's housekeeping in order to identify and document any possible damage or lost items, it said.

Since the report aired, the company has banned the wearing of Thor Steinar clothing by its employees. It also plans to terminate its business relationship with Commando Industries Textilhandels, a manufacturer of specialized combat clothing including bulletproof vests and uniforms that ARD also suggested had ties to right-wing extremism.

Amazon has stopped its collaboration with the criticized security firm "effective immediately," Amazon.de representative Ulrike Stoecker said Monday via email. However, Amazon initially told media outlets last week that it did not hire HESS itself. Stoecker did not clarify whether Amazon had a direct contract with HESS or was working with HESS through a work agency.

Stoecker said that Amazon has around 8,000 full-time employees in Germany and hires additional ones on seasonal fixed-term contracts during peak times, sometimes through work agencies. The employees hired though a temp work agency who were working in its logistics center in Bad Hersfeld, in the German state of Hesse, and who were presented in the ARD report, earned almost the same wages as the employees paid directly by Amazon, Stoecker said.

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