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Amazon faces allegations it "brazenly" underreported COVID-19 cases in its warehouses

Just a handful of the circa 20,000 cases it acknowledged last year were reported to occupational health authorities in the US, a report claims

A view of the outside an Amazon fulfilment centre in Silicon Valley

Amazon is facing allegations that it "vastly" and "brazenly" underreported the scale of its COVID-19 cases to US authorities, putting the lives of its warehouse workers at risk.

Fresh calls have been made for an investigation into the claims that the tech giant made in October 2020 when it publicly stated it had reported nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases to authorities.

Recent analysis by The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of four labour unions, indicated that Amazon reported just 27 COVID-19 cases by the time it made the 2020 statement.

The findings were based on data from the US' Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The SOC found that the 27 cases were reported under the 'respiratory conditions' category - the category under which all COVID-19 cases are reported. No other cases of work-related infections were reported to the authorities, the analysis found.

"These claims are intentionally misleading to try and paint a false picture," said Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson, to IT Pro. "OSHA has acknowledged that assessing whether a COVID case was caused through exposure in the workplace vs. in the community is difficult.

"OSHA has provided employers with guidance about when to record cases as workplace-related exposure and we have worked to follow this guidance throughout the pandemic," she added.  "Additionally, we also communicate regularly with our employees and local health authorities.  

"While we know we aren’t perfect, we’re working hard every day to listen to the experts and keep our teams and communities safe, which has included incurring more than $15B in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing, and hundreds of process changes and health measures."

The scale of the alleged underreporting has led to claims that Amazon may have committed a "federal violation" of US health and safety laws.

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"Allowing Amazon to continue to evade effective federal oversight on COVID safety risks sending the message that the company can continue to prioritise its profits over its workers’ health,” said the SOC, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehouse Workers Resource Center, and the Awood Center, in a complaint issued to OSHA on Tuesday.

It's unclear at this time whether Amazon believes those reported represent the entirety of the company's work-related COVID-19 infections. IT Pro contacted Amazon for comment but the company did not reply by the time of publication.

Last month, Amazon agreed to pay a $500,000 (£375,500) fine and be monitored by California authorities for failing to adequately notify workers and health officials of new COVID-19 cases. It also said in November that it would no longer require fully vaccinated warehouse workers to wear masks at work.

Amazon's warehouses have long been reported to be laden with issues and unwelcome working practices. Workers have reported being unable to go to the toilet while on shift through fear of missing quotas.

The recent Black Friday shopping period saw Extinction Rebellion protesters targeting a swathe of UK warehouses to "draw attention to Amazon's exploitative and environmentally destructive business practices", one protester said at the time.

Last week, UK trade union GMB also revealed through a Freedom of Information request that ambulance callouts to Amazon warehouses increased almost 50% around the Black Friday period.

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