Amazon India admits to ‘lapses’ after workers forced to pledge not to take bathroom or water breaks

An Amazon employee at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Bengaluru (Getty)
An Amazon employee at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Bengaluru (Getty)

Amazon India has admitted to safety lapses in its warehouses after workers were told to pledge they would not take any breaks, including to drink water or go to the bathroom, until they met their targets.

Earlier this month,The Independent reported an incident at Amazon India’s Manesar warehouse in the northern state of Haryana, in which staff members were asked to participate in the pledge, according to an eyewitness.

“That day, we struggled to meet the target that was set, which was higher than usual; perhaps a sale was on, so products had to be moved to a different godown [warehouse] the same day,” a woman worker, who requested anonymity, described what happened on 16 May to The Independent.

“Around 4.30pm, one manager urged us to work harder, and then another manager instructed us to hold our arms out and pledge, ‘We will not take any breaks, we will not stop to drink water or go to the bathroom until we meet our targets.’”

Several reports on the working conditions at the warehouse prompted India’s human rights commission to call on the labour ministry to intervene.

Responding to the labour ministry’s enquiry, Amazon India said in a letter that its investigation confirmed that the incident did take place and was “an unfortunate and isolated incident”.

In a statement to The Independent, an Amazon spokesperson said: “In this case, we conducted a detailed investigation, found an isolated incident of poor judgement by an individual that was totally unacceptable and against our policies, and took disciplinary action.

“There’s nothing more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of our employees and associates, and we comply with all relevant laws and regulations. Our facilities are industry leading and provide competitive pay, comfortable working conditions, and specially designed infrastructure to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for all.”

Staff at Amazon’s warehouses described working 10-hour shifts on their feet in the middle of a heatwave that has seen temperatures in India exceed 50C. The worker added that there wasn’t adequate seating for people to rest, and while fans and large coolers were placed at the warehouse, their impact was “negligible”. Temperatures in the areas they worked at were “typically between 30-35C on any given day”.

The Amazon India Workers Association told The Independent: “The Amazon India Workers Association (AIWA) supported by UNI Global Union has praised the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for its proactive role in addressing blatant labour law violations in Amazon warehouses located in Manesar, Haryana. AIWA also commended the labour ministry and labour department of Haryana for their prompt actions in this matter.

“Amazon has admitted to some illegal operations and unfair labour practices in its Haryana warehouses. However, the warehouse management has failed to rectify several unlawful operations, including excessive work hours, inadequate working conditions, insufficient facilities, unrealistic targets, unjust policies, wage issues, and grievance redressal,” they said.

Female employees rest in the bathroom at an Amazon warehouse in Manesar, Haryana (Amazon India Workers Association)
Female employees rest in the bathroom at an Amazon warehouse in Manesar, Haryana (Amazon India Workers Association)

Employees have described instances where workers fainted due to extreme heat, and were expected to resume their duties after a brief 10-15 minute rest. Some were given a paracetamol tablet and managers sought out workers resting in the bathrooms.

These recent complaints are part of a larger, ongoing struggle faced by Amazon warehouse workers worldwide. Over the past four years, employees have joined the “Make Amazon Pay” movement, demanding improved working conditions and fairer wages.

Amazon had earlier said: “All our buildings have heat index monitoring devices and we constantly monitor changes in temperature, especially during summer months. If we do find increasing heat or humidity inside our buildings, then our teams take action to provide comfortable working conditions, including temporarily suspending work.

“Employees and associates are free to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to use the restroom, get water, or talk to a manager or HR,” they added.