March 11, 2016
Amazon goes full Orwell
by Zeljka Marosevic
Amazon has always had a complicated relationship with George Orwell. As we’ve reported before, the online retailer has misquoted Orwell, tried to claim him as its own, and made a number of Orwellian blunders. This includes deleting copies of Animal Farm and 1984 from customer’s Kindles in a Big Brother move that made onlookers shiver.
That relationship just got weirder. As Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper report for Bloomberg, Amazon US is now conducting its own Two-Minutes Hate. According to the report, warehouse staff at the online retailer are required to watch videos of former members of staff stealing from the company, to promote better behaviour among current staff members.
As Bloomberg describes it:
In an effort to discourage stealing, Amazon has put up flatscreen TVs that display examples of alleged on-the-job theft, say 11 of the company’s current and former warehouse workers and antitheft staff. The alleged offenders aren’t identified by name. Each is represented by a black silhouette stamped with the word “terminated” and accompanied by details such as when they stole, what they stole, how much it was worth, and how they got caught—changing an outbound package’s address, for example, or stuffing merchandise in their socks. Some of the silhouettes are marked “arrested.”
According to one former staffer, the screens don’t bother people, they’re just a friendly reminder that Big Brother Amazon is watching them:
Only people that would have something to say about it is people that’s doing wrong. It’s just letting people know that you’re being watched.
The screens not only play videos but post information about recent acts of violence, firings, and err Black History Month:
The digital bulletin boards also occasionally display information about firings related to workplace violence. There are cheerier announcements, too, such as updates on incentive bonuses or a message about Black History Month. In some warehouses that don’t have flatscreens, workers say, tales of firings are posted on sheets of paper tacked to bulletin boards or taped to the wall.
Amazon hasn’t tried to defend the practice. But Matthew Gwyther, editor of Management Today, told The Bookseller:
What sort of an organisation has got to the point that it thinks this is a satisfactory or commendable way to be behaving? It reminds me of Ben Hur with them standing over the rowers with a whip. I find it extraordinary that its relationships with its workforce have reached such a low point that it would do something like that.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.