The Amazon machine

Every year, Amazon ships hundreds of millions of parcels in Germany. Just a few clicks and a little later the delivery driver is at your door. An investigation by CORRECTIV.Lokal takes a look behind the scenes of the logistics chain and shows a system built on pressure, surveillance, and extreme stress. An insight into the gears of a machine where no idling is allowed.

By Miriam Lenz, Jonathan Sachse, Mohamed Anwar, Thore Rausch, Ole Rockrohr, Svenja Stühmeier

Every day, Andreas walks at least 15 kilometers, sometimes even 20. That’s almost a half marathon. He walks constantly, just like many other people in Amazon’s fulfillment center in Leipzig – part of a huge machine that allows parcels to be sent on their way, day after day. Nothing stops it. Not even death.

A few weeks ago, one of his colleagues died while working at the fulfillment center. The early shift was nearing its end when he collapsed. Cardboard sheets were set up around the corpse to keep it hidden from view. It was the 15th August, a Monday, in the early afternoon. Just a little later, Andreas was looking for parcels in a neighboring hall. Physicians and the police came; a hearse drove up later. On that day, Andreas simply continued working, as instructed by the management. In the hall where the colleague died, the next shift started on time. The Amazon machine keeps running.

Since he still works for Amazon, we are using the pseudonym Andreas in this story. The reconstruction of events is based on his recollections and those of seven other colleagues with whom CORRECTIV.Lokal spoke.

There was no work accident. Apparently, the man had died of natural causes. The police also confirm this. None of the workers blame Amazon for his death. What they criticize is the way the incident was handled. The message was clear: At Amazon, profits come first. The machine must keep ticking. “If I had been in the company’s place,” said Andreas, “I would have stopped the shifts immediately.”

A spokesperson for the company said that CORRECTIV.Lokal has got the wrong picture of the “tragic event”. The area where the dead man lay was shielded anyway by high shelves and a wall, they said. Additionally, and “in no time at all, further visual barriers were set up”. And finally, the company “locked workstations”, changed the routing for workers and turned off conveyor belts. Amazon admits to having made mistakes: In the “short reaction time” moving some employees who had just arrived from the hall to another area was “unfortunately not actually successful”. “Retrospectively, we would have done it differently.” But, subsequently, “there was psychological staff on site”. The spokesperson said all workers in that and following shifts were released from their duties, allowing them to go home with pay. This offer does not seem to have been received by Andreas and other workers with whom CORRECTIV.Lokal spoke. The question of why shift work was not discontinued that day is not answered by Amazon.

The worker’s death may be an extreme example. But the way in which everyday work seemed to go on without interruption is an example of Amazon’s system, which relies on maximum efficiency and where there is no place for pauses.

Only two or three clicks are necessary to order something from Amazon. It doesn’t get much easier. Soon after, a driver is at your door with the parcel, sometimes even on the same day. This often comes at no cost to the customers, because with a Prime subscription or an order with a minimum value of 29 euros, standard delivery is free of charge. Currently, in the pre-Christmas period, a particularly large number of orders are being received by Amazon.

CORRECTIV.Lokal investigated Amazon’s logistics network in various regions of Germany for seven months. Among the partners involved in the investigation are the local news outlets Nürnberger Nachrichten, the Badische Neueste Nachrichten, the Leipziger Volkszeitung, the Nordstadtblogger, the Ostfriesen-Zeitung, the Nordsee-Zeitung, the Rheinische Post, as well as other media. The local journalists set off at the same time and are publishing their own stories in parallel. Together, we took a look at the gears of the logistics giant Amazon.

We spoke to more than 100 people who work in Amazon’s logistics chain or have some knowledge about it: logistics workers, truck drivers and delivery drivers. We saw employment contracts and rosters, and read chat histories. Further, we evaluated documents, including inspection reports from occupational safety authorities, as well as responses from data protection authorities.

When asked about precarious working conditions, a spokesperson for the online retail giant responded with blanket statements and PR phrases: The workers are the “heart of Amazon” and everyone is invited to see the working conditions on visitor tours organized by the company. They pointed to the relatively fair wages in comparison to the rest of the sector – starting at 13 euros per hour – further education programmes and “good prospects”. In addition, Amazon constantly works on “improvements”. But the company did not indicate in writing what these are.

Our investigation stands in contrast to their PR image. Amazon is by far the largest player in a sector where exploitation and poor working conditions are part of the business model. An Amazon parcel passes through the hands of many people working in precarious circumstances. Some workers walk a half marathon a day and barely have time for a break to go to the toilet. Truck drivers are so tired that they constantly struggle not to fall asleep at the wheel. Many of them report constant pressure and extremely tight time allowances for their tasks. Some of the people work alongside robots, under computer surveillance.

All of them have to operate as part of the Amazon machine. When someone in Germany clicks on “buy now”, the machine starts.

The fulfillment centers

Order confirmation: Your parcel is being prepared and will be on its way to you soon.

Before someone clicks “buy now”, the Amazon machine has already been rolling for a long time. Amazon has been expanding into its own shipping and aviation business in a big way. Goods have already traveled halfway across the world before anyone actually starts to think about placing an order. This is the only way to keep the Prime promise.

In Germany, the goods usually end up in one of 20 fulfillment centers. In the factory-like halls, some of which are as large as entire residential neighborhoods, Amazon employees arrange the ordered goods. They prepare the parcels, put them on conveyor belts and ship them. Robots have been increasingly used here for some years. And most steps are subject to surveillance.

In addition to Leipzig in the east in Germany, there are fulfillment centers in Heidenheim in the south, Bad Hersfeld in the center and Achim in the north. The centers are mostly located on motorways outside of the big cities and are part of an elaborate logistics network that includes sortation centers and delivery stations, where parcels are sorted more precisely and forwarded. CORRECTIV.Lokal has compiled all warehouses in Germany, both in operation and in planning. The following maps show for the first time the extent of the current network.

There are 20 fulfillment centers in Germany. In them, Amazon workers organize the ordered goods and pack them into parcels.

Orders for the so-called “last mile”, i.e., for delivery to the front door, are prepared in around 70 delivery stations.

Sometimes parcels are sorted again according to destination between the fulfillment center and the delivery station in one of the nine sortation centers and then distributed once more among the trucks.

The complete Amazon network now includes around 100 locations in Germany. About 15 more locations are currently being planned or built .

According to the company’s own statements, Amazon employs more than 20,000 permanent employees in its logistics locations in Germany. More than 1,000 people are employed in Leipzig alone. Andreas, who reported on the death of his coworker, is one of them.

Everything works according to plan; the processes are highly standardized. For Andreas, every day starts in the same way: safety vest, gloves, a water bottle. At the beginning of his shift, a hand-held scanner tells him his route for the next few hours. He usually enters a lift and drives up to the level indicated by the hand-held scanner. It also shows him the goods he has to look for on the shelf. Find the shelf, pick up the order, put it on the trolley. Check the scanner. Next product.

An Amazon employee has found your desired product. A hand-held scanner makes it clear where to locate the goods in the warehouse and where the employee is located.

“I have to bend down for almost every second item,” Andreas says. The worst are mini-dishwashers or ovens that he has to lift by himself. Especially if they are stored on the lower shelves. He says the items sometimes weigh 17 kilograms.

When the trolley is full, Andreas pushes it to the lift and sends the products down. Someone else will continue with the process and pack the products into a parcel. The work is divided into small steps. Every movement has been planned precisely; then everything starts all over again.

Andreas is subject to surveillance when at work. This process, too, is highly digitized at Amazon. Officially, it’s about efficiency. But it also means that Amazon is monitoring its employees. Amazon measures the work of Andreas and his colleagues throughout the entire working day. How long do they need to complete an order? How many goods do they carry in one hour? How does their speed compare? Is Andreas above or below average?

“We do not require our employees to achieve specific working speeds or production targets individually,” a spokesperson for the American company said. The average team performance is taken into account when planning takes place, and it can only be calculated with real individual data.

Pressure at Amazon: A hand-held scanner counts down the seconds

If Andreas does not move for five minutes, his hand-held scanner sounds an alarm. A countdown clock counts backwards, second by second. Anyone who does not proceed with their work in the allotted time will be pulled out of the system. The result may be that the person is assigned a different route and has to continue working in a different area of the hall, said Andreas. “This is difficult to manage in terms of time for those workers who need to use the toilet for a longer time or have limitations.”

Amazon confirmed the countdown. An answer in writing states: To prevent this from happening, workers must log out of the scanner beforehand. “Workers can take the necessary time off for the interruption whenever they want to do so.”

Several media outlets have already reported on the close surveillance that takes place at Amazon. In October 2020, NDR (the public broadcaster in the northwest) reported how supervisors apparently put pressure on workers when their “rate” dropped. A worker is said to have been asked where she was at a certain time. The taz nord (a local publication in Hamburg) described how fixed-term contracts increased the pressure to work as efficiently as possible. One worker did not dare to take sick leave because of concerns about the future.

After Christmas sales: Amazon terminates fixed-term contracts

In spring 2021, several RTL reporters worked undercover at various Amazon locations. At one of these locations, the sortation center in Krefeld, a supervisor is said to have reported that around 150 temporary workers were deployed in each shift. Of these, Amazon only keeps five or six people for the nine after-season months, the report says. A number that Amazon did not confirm when asked by CORRECTIV.Lokal. However, a spokesperson said: “Fixed-time contracts are used, for example, for seasonal temporary workers during the Christmas sales season or at new locations shortly after their opening.”

Your products have been packaged. Thousands of deliveries to the packing station will follow.

For a long time, Andreas was only employed on a fixed-time basis. For this reason, he often ran the routes during his shift, so as to achieve good figures and get follow-up contracts. He says that this still happens today with colleagues with fixed-term contracts.

But surveillance still goes further. Not only the routes run are measured: Cameras, which were officially only supposed to check the minimum distances during the corona pandemic, continue to operate, according to an occupational health and safety report of a Berlin authority. The report was obtained by CORRECTIV.Lokal through the Freedom of Information Act.

Amazon even captures the workers’ mood in figures and puts them in relation to the values obtained worldwide. Do you find your work interesting? Ninety-three percent of the workers in an Amazon warehouse in Garching, Bavaria, are said to have answered the question with “Yes”. The result is visible to all employees on a board, as reported by the Münchner Merkur (a local news outlet in Munich) in October. Next to it is the global “Amazon Score”, allegedly eighty-five percent. People become figures. To be measured and compared.

Two data protection cases against Amazon in Bavaria and Hesse

CORRECTIV.Lokal has asked data privacy control authorities nationwide about data protection proceedings against Amazon. In the past, the control authorities were active simultaneously in several federal states because of possible inadmissible employee surveillance or allegedly stored personal data, among other concerns. Currently, proceedings are still underway in Bavaria and Hesse against Amazon or its subcontractors.

The Lower Saxony Data Protection Authority issued a clear judgment: Since work data was “continuously” collected at the fulfillment center in Winsen an der Luhe, Amazon “severely interfered with the right to informational self-determination of its workers”. Amazon did not like this and went to court. A first hearing before the administrative court in Hanover is planned for January or February 2023.

Sometimes Andreas’s friends ask him about his work at Amazon. Often, he does not want to answer. He wants nothing to do with his employer in his private life. He no longer orders anything from Amazon himself. “I know the system behind it and I prefer to support smaller retailers rather than Amazon,” he says.

But many people act differently.

Amazon reported global profits of around 33.36 billion dollars in 2021. However, the municipalities and the state hardly benefit from this. In 2021, journalist Alec MacGillis reported in his book “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America” how Amazon was even given tax breaks for its U.S. operations. In Europe, the American company has been criticized for many years for tax avoidance tricks that operate via Luxembourg. Last year, Amazon even received a tax credit of one billion euros, as reported by the finance portal Bloomberg in April. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is the fourth richest person in the world, with an estimated total fortune of around 150 billion dollars. 

Reports of global job cuts at Amazon

Due to increased inflation and fears of recession, the world’s largest online retailer is currently expecting rather low Christmas sales. In mid-November, the New York Times reported that Amazon plans to cut around 10,000 jobs worldwide. However, the focus of the cuts is not on the logistics operation, but on the loss-making device division of the widely ramified group, which also includes the “Alexa” voice control system. When asked by CORRECTIV.Lokal, a spokesperson for Amazon did not say whether jobs in Germany would also be cut.

Germany is currently the second largest market for Amazon after the United States. Last year, a fifth of the total turnover in online trading in Germany was accounted for by Amazon. Online trade is booming, especially during the Christmas season. In the coming days, workers in Leipzig will also be sending out more parcels than usual.

The parcel is being prepared for transport. The barcode is scanned and the shipping label is added.

When Andreas hauls a product through the fulfillment center, it ends up as a parcel in a container that keeps filling up.

A truck driver is called as soon as a container is full. Once the load has been completed, he leaves for the motorway. And now the actual journey begins.

Transport by truck

Sent: The products you ordered have left our warehouse. They will arrive in your region soon.

Hundreds of trucks drive across Germany for Amazon every day. They transport goods back and forth between various Amazon locations. Drivers from Eastern Europe are often behind the wheel. Always on the road and mostly without any knowledge of the German language, they are at the mercy of poor working conditions and it is difficult for them to reach advice centers or trade unions.

CORRECTIV.Lokal spoke to ten drivers who transport or have transported goods in Germany for Amazon. They talk about tight schedules, long waiting times at Amazon locations, pressure and fatigue. Some of them get no holidays and hardly have any breaks. They are also subject to the ticking of the machine.

An app transmits the location of truck drivers to Amazon

These truck drivers do not work directly for Amazon, but for trucking companies from Germany and other EU countries. And they too are subject to close surveillance. The orders for their trips come directly from Amazon via the “Amazon Relay” app, which also monitors the location of the truck drivers. With the app, Amazon meticulously specifies when and where the drivers should arrive and depart during the working week. CORRECTIV.Local obtained two of these weekly schedules.

The trips are often at night. There is hardly any other possibility if orders are to reach the customer’s home within one day. Buyers want their goods – quickly and preferably free of charge.

Lithuanian truck drivers transport Amazon packages for several months on end without any holidays

Antanas and Jonas are often on the road at night. When we meet them in the parking lot of an Amazon center in northern Germany in the summer, they are cooking potatoes on a camping stove next to their truck. The heat is oppressing. There is no shade available.

They seem to be in their forties. They are from Lithuania and have been working as truck drivers for years. They say that they are in Germany because of better working conditions and better pay. For some time now, they have been driving Amazon goods across Germany. Their employer is based in a small town in the Rhineland-Palatinate in the west.

Jonas’s and Antanas’s names have been changed. They do not want their boss to know that they spoke to the press.

What do these better working conditions look like in Germany? What about holidays, sick leave, housing? Antanas laughs. “We don’t have holidays,” he said. “If we want holidays, then we have to quit.”

An employment contract without the right to holidays

CORRECTIV.Local has seen Antanas’s employment contract. In fact, there is no mention of holidays in it. As the company is based in Germany, German labor law applies. Accordingly, all workers in Germany are entitled to 24 days of holidays per year. But the subcontractor evidently uses successive fixed-term contracts in which no holidays are anticipated.

Jonas and Antanas speak of the following practice: Those who need a break terminate their contract and take unpaid holidays. The drivers then return to their home countries and often conclude the next contract straight away. This is how their logistics company evades the law.

Jonas says that he has been on German roads non-stop for four months. He does not know when he will see his family in Lithuania again.

The two men reported that in their company there are always two drivers together on a truck. For the employer, this has the advantage that they can legally be on the road for longer periods at a time.

Staying overnight in the driver’s cabin – fatigue at the wheel

For the drivers, this means they share the truck and have little privacy.

Despite this, Antanas and Jonas say that they still prefer to be together. This way, one of them can rest for at least two to three hours. They often have to drive for 21 hours straight.

In response to an enquiry from CORRECTIV.Lokal about the accusations made by its truck drivers, the spokesperson for the Rhineland-Palatinate company said: “All labor law requirements are complied with.” It is wrong that no vacation would be granted, they told CORRECTIV.Lokal.

The drivers said they always sleep in the small driver’s cabin. They have never yet slept in a hotel. This, too, is illegal. EU Regulation 561/2006 stipulates that drivers may spend no more than two weeks in the truck. In the third week, they have to rest for 45 uninterrupted hours. The employer is obliged to ensure that during this long break the driver can sleep outside the driver’s cabin, i.e., in a real bed.

“We’ve been hearing from truck drivers for years that the right to a place to sleep outside the driver’s cabin is rarely controlled in Germany,” said Michael Wahl, who works for the Federation of German Trade Unions’ advisory network “Fair Mobility”. Wahl is part of a team of dozens of counsellors who regularly advise truck drivers. He said that many drivers believe that in Germany, you are allowed to sleep in the truck all the time, but not in France or Belgium, for example. Regular checks take place there, said Wahl. “Other truck drivers say that employers instruct drivers to lie at checks or to exhibit forged documents.”

A former driver of the German trucking company confirmed the allegations made by Jonas and Antanas. He said that he was even instructed by his superiors about false statements he should make concerning his overnight stays in the truck during government inspections.

When asked by CORRECTIV.Lokal, the truck drivers’ employer did not answer questions about overnight accommodation. Representatives for Amazon also did not confirm or deny whether drivers sometimes only sleep in their driver’s cabin for months on end. A spokesperson only wrote in general terms: “It is very important to us that these drivers feel comfortable.”

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Truck drivers like Jonas and Antanas have to wait in Amazon’s so-called “Trucker Lounge” during loading and unloading. This is often just a container with a coffee machine, a food vending machine and a few chairs, which are not always sufficient, so that drivers sometimes have to stand. In some cases there aren’t even showers available.

Amazon evaluated these offers differently upon CORRECTIV’s enquiry: The waiting time for truck drivers is made “as pleasant as possible”. In addition, toilets are accessible around the clock, wrote an Amazon spokesperson. The working conditions of the truck drivers who are employed by subcontractors for Amazon are among the “best in the industry”.

According to his employment contract, Antanas receives 1,800 euros gross per month for 183 hours of work. At 9.84 euros per hour, this would be just above the former minimum wage in Germany.

The drivers mentioned other issues, too. If they get ill while working in Germany, they will not get any money. And what happens when they do not feel well? “Coffee and Red Bull,” said Jonas.

A death after a serious truck accident on the motorway

They are often absolutely overworked, they said, and that worries them. The truck drivers talked about an accident a few weeks ago involving an exhausted colleague in southern Germany. They pulled up an article from SWR (southwest public broadcasting) about an accident on the 13th June on their smartphone.

The police report mentions a 57-year-old driver of a semi-trailer truck who was driving on the federal motorway 6 in the direction of Nuremberg at around 5 a.m. “For reasons not yet clarified, he first collided with a roadworks fence on the right-hand side of the road, then broke through the metal crash barrier on the left-hand side of the roadworks area and ended in the opposite lane.”

A man died. Six other people, including the truck driver, were seriously injured. The public prosecutor’s office of Ansbach initiated an investigation.

When asked by CORRECTIV.Lokal, a spokesperson for the Rhineland-Palatinate company confirmed that one of its truck drivers had been involved in the accident, but did not see any responsibility on their part. The driver was not overtired, they stated.

It remains unclear for whom the driver was transporting goods on that day. Amazon explained on request: “After reviewing the available data, we are not aware of any traffic accidents for Amazon trips with this company for the year 2022.”

Another four drivers we spoke with reported fatigue. They said they drive for other subcontractors and are part of a new programme through which Amazon wants to bind trucking companies even closer to itself.

Amazon writes that they work with more than 600 German freight forwarders and that they check their compliance with laws and regulations “from time to time”. A spokesperson wrote: “The rest breaks are clearly regulated by the legislation and every freight forwarder is responsible for compliance. If we find that a company is in breach of the regulations, we act immediately.”

Antanas and Jonas quickly throw their food into the pan, which is now on the camp stove. Later on they will be behind the wheel again, so that Amazon customers get their package as quickly as possible. They will need to concentrate once more when the lights from oncoming vehicles blind them at night and they have to look along the monotonous motorway. The Amazon machine keeps running.

The delivery stations

Ready for pick up: Your parcel has been sorted by us. The shipment is being prepared for loading into the delivery vehicle.

The trucks drive from the fulfillment centers to the Amazon delivery stations. Here, Amazon workers load parcels onto conveyor belts; thousands and tens of thousands of them, small and large. The flow of goods never seems to stop. The employees scan, affix stickers with the destination, and sort the parcels by street and postcode.

The delivery stations are much smaller than the fulfillment centers. Only around 100 to 200 people usually work there. The tasks are small and monotonous and they require a high level of concentration.

Here, too, Amazon controls the workers with a hand-held scanner. They mostly work the night shift. The pressure of the machine increases once again. The packages are to be delivered to the customer the following morning.

Amazon’s first delivery station with a works council

Serdal Sardas has worked at the Wunstorf delivery station in northern Germany for almost two years, for a long time only at night, organizing shifts. His position: Operations Supervisor, a job with responsibility. “The night shift is not when you want to work, when your body wants to be awake,” Sardas said. It can be done for two or three years. After this, people get ill. Sardas has left this behind. He has been chairman of the newly created works council at the Wunstorf location since June and has been released from work for this purpose.

The delivery stations are an important part of Amazon’s plan to become increasingly independent of large logistics providers such as DHL and to transform the parcel sector in Germany. The first German delivery station opened in 2015 near Munich. Now there are around 70.

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This investigation is a cooperation between several local media outlets and CORRECTIV.Lokal. With the network, we promote investigations in local journalism. In addition to joint investigations, we offer our more than 1,400 members further training and support exchange with local citizens. This is how we strengthen democracy.

Organizing and standing up for one’s own rights seems even more difficult for employees in the delivery stations than in the fulfillment centers. “Amazon uses many subcontracted workers in delivery stations,” said Nonni Morisse, who works at the Verdi trade union in Lower Saxony in the north of Germany. “This makes it more difficult to set up a works council.” Morisse’s work is solely focused on Amazon. Many of the employees there, he said, immigrated to Germany and are therefore not aware of their rights as workers in this country. The union also finds it harder to reach these workers because of the language barrier.

However, in Wunstorf, Serdal Sardas has succeeded. He and the other workers at the delivery station set up a works council this summer. A small revolution – it is the first union for an Amazon delivery station in Germany.

Amazon is legally challenging the election of a works council

The establishment of a works council is a great success for Sardas. The works council would like to start working. But the machine fights back. Amazon is legally challenging the election: The works council is too numerous for the number of employees, the company told CORRECTIV.Lokal. In addition, workers entitled to vote were not allowed to vote. A gesture of power by the company, one of many.

In America, Amazon has been fighting against the creation of unions for years. In Germany, the company is also trying to torpedo co-determination by its employees. Sardas and his colleagues have also experienced this.

In the works council elections, another list of candidates competed with the one led by Sardas. He calls them “close to Amazon”. They promoted “company loyalty” on an election poster. In two fulfillment centers with works councils, sources describe a similar approach.

Amazon does not answer the question of whether the company tried to influence the outcome of the election. According to Amazon, it is up to the workers themselves to determine how and in what form they get involved in the election. “This also applies to a candidacy,” said a spokesperson.

Morisse, from the Verdi union, describes the second list as “management-led”. He says: “Meanwhile, Amazon is using all kinds of artillery and strategies to obstruct the election of unionized colleagues”.

There is a lot to do, said Sardas. As Operations Supervisor, he noticed the problems every single night. Among other things, he was responsible for ensuring that the delivery drivers’ vans were loaded on time. He says: “During task scheduling, for example, no attention was paid to whether someone is a single parent and therefore is unable to work the late shift.”

The opposite is actually the case, according to Amazon. Shifts are communicated transparently at least four weeks in advance.

At the beginning of the night shift, a shift supervisor presses a button on their computer, and then the system generates a route for the mass of parcels that have to be handled during the shift at the delivery station. First, the routes are created virtually on the computer. Then the supervisor assigns the shifts. The machine controls the people. Some unload the trucks, others scan, pack, sort, bend down; upper shelf, lower shelf.

A worker carries thousands of parcels a day

Hundreds of parcels, sometimes even thousands, are stored by a worker per shift. Sardas said he made sure that no one got more than 3,000. “Anything above that is not healthy.” Pampers XXL packs, Whiskas, twelve kilograms; such loads are physically exhausting. “They are unwieldy and heavy, they break easily and spill,” said Sardas.

It turned from bad to worse when the e-scooter boom began. Hundreds of devices arrived in the first days, Sardas recalled. Lugging around that much is something that only happens at the beginning of summer, when many customers order garden furniture. The monotony also causes problems for the workers. “Positions are changed with a new shift,” he said. “Attention is paid to this, to add some variety.”

Finally, the goods end up in bags, sorted according to postcode and street, for the drivers to load into their transport vehicles later.

The delivery drivers

Loading: The shipment was loaded into the delivery vehicle. Delivery will take place today.

Thousands of delivery drivers are on the road six days a week with vehicles full of Amazon parcels, on the so-called “last mile” – from the delivery stations to the customers’ front door.

The machine gets them picked up right at the delivery station: Sometimes, hundreds of vehicles are waiting in the morning in front of the gates for the parcels. Scheduled in waves, they stop at markings reminiscent of the starting lines of a Formula 1 race. 

Exactly 15 minutes are planned for each wave. During this time, delivery drivers have to fetch their goods from the warehouse and stow them in their vehicles. This process can be seen in more detail in an NDR Schleswig Holstein Magazin (a local news outlet in the north) report. “Three minutes left,” an announcement echoes across the forecourt. A flurry of activity breaks out. A supervisor reminds the courier drivers at regular intervals of their remaining time. The delivery people drive away from the company premises and the next wave is ready. Then they set off for the streets.

No time for breaks and illness: What Amazon couriers experience

Several drivers described what happened there to the Nordseezeitung and the Nürnberger Nachrichten, local news outlets in Bremerhaven and Nuremberg, respectively. Both media investigated together with CORRECTIV.Lokal.

“We constantly had to drive in overloaded vehicles and dodge the police checks,” said one of the drivers. Others spoke of extreme pressure, disciplinary measures and constant time pressure. “It’s actually impossible to make all the stops and deliver everything – but you have to manage. Overtime is not paid.”

One driver said she tried to take short breaks during the day. “But after the second or third call from my boss, asking what I am doing at one location for so long, I didn’t dare anymore.” For this reason, she ate and drank while driving.

In parallel with the drivers’ reports are abuses uncovered by other German media. Subcontractors disappeared and did not pay their drivers, the MDR (the public broadcaster in the east) reported last year. And the public broadcaster ZDF reported growing loads of up to 270 parcels per shift and unpaid overtime.

Amazon denies being responsible for these precarious working conditions. “In about 90 percent of the cases, the drivers finish their routes on time or even earlier,” wrote a company spokesperson.

Besides, the delivery drivers are not employed directly by Amazon, but by subcontractors. However, Amazon promotes the establishment of these subcontractors with its own programme. Amazon’s press office wrote that these partners are obliged to pay overtime.

Routes and the number of packages are prescribed by the machine. The drivers are monitored by Amazon and the subcontractors via a cell phone app. Officially, this is to ensure more road safety – the app is supposed to draw attention to braking too quickly or increased speed. The app also monitors the length of a route, so that “the legally prescribed maximum driving time is not exceeded,” justified an Amazon spokesperson.

The last mile: Under pressure right up to your doorstep

“Surveillance is omnipresent,” said Anna from Bavaria to the Nürnberger Nachrichten. You put pressure on yourself to meet the requirements. Additionally, there is also the external control: “By Amazon. By the boss. By the customers.”

Anna is not her real name. She does not want her name to be made public, like many who work or have worked in the Amazon environment. She delivered Amazon packages for several subcontractors in Bavaria for about a year and a half. She had bad experiences with all companies, as reported by the Nürnberger Nachrichten.

She said she had to make 160 to 200 stops a day. “The number of stops determines your working hours.” She worked nine to twelve hours a day. Under no circumstances can you get ill. Otherwise, there is the risk of dismissal. Some days she was ill but continued to sit behind the wheel. “Those days you hope you don’t keel over.”

A delivery driver no longer orders anything from Amazon

“The scenario you are describing should never happen and we would not tolerate such behavior by our partner,” wrote an Amazon spokesperson. The incident could be investigated if there is any evidence. “In case of contract breaches or indications of illegal activities, we would consider terminating the cooperation with the respective company.”

In fact, Anna liked to deliver parcels. But the pressure became too much. Many delivery drivers change employers after a few months. Often from one subcontractor to the next. Perhaps in the hope of obtaining better working conditions. This is shown by numerous online CVs viewed by CORRECTIV.Lokal.

Anna no longer works as a delivery driver. She does not even order from Amazon anymore. She only wanted one thing: To get out of the machine.

The parcel at your front door

Success: Your Amazon parcel has been delivered.

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