Amazon has ordered the temporary closure of all six of its French distribution centres, a day after a French court ruled that it was not doing enough to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said in a statement: “This week we are requesting employees of our distribution centres to stay at home. In the longer term we will evaluate the impact of that [court] decision for them and our French logistic network.”
Amazon’s French warehouses are to be shut down for five days from Thursday for a deep clean and to “take all the necessary measures to guarantee the health and safety of staff”, the company said. Management said the 10,000 full- and part-time staff would continue to be paid.
Amazon France also said it was appealing against Tuesday’s emergency ruling, which requires the company to stop selling non-essential goods for a month while it works out new worker safety measures.
Sales of food, medicine and hygiene supplies are still allowed under the ruling. However, Amazon France said that given the “inherent complexity” of its activities, and the potential €1m ($1.1m) fine for each violation of the ruling, the risk was “too high”.
The shutdown also plays into a very public war of words between Amazon and the French unions that represent its warehouse workers. In a statement, the company squarely laid the blame for the shutdown on the union complaint that led to the Nanterre court ruling.
“The union action that led to the decision will likely have consequences for many people in the country,” an Amazon spokesperson said, “including our thousands of employees, customers who rely on us now more than ever, and the small local businesses that use Amazon to grow.
“While we will do our best to minimise the impact on French small businesses, those who depend on our FC network to deliver their products will be negatively impacted by this ruling. We will continue to serve French customers through our independent marketplace sellers and robust global fulfilment network.”
The Solidaires union, which brought the complaint, said it was merely asking Amazon to enforce a ban on non-essential items that the company “has been claiming for weeks”, and said a similar judgment had been levied against La Poste, the French state postal service, the week before.
Earlier on Wednesday, the company had stressed the importance of its services to the “thousands of French companies that sell on Amazon” and “millions of people around the country who want to have access to products they need during the crisis”.
Amazon insisted it was providing adequate security measures for staff, noting the implementation of temperature checks and mask distribution.
The company claimed it had sent more than 127,000 packets of disinfectant wipes and 27,000 litres of sanitising gel, as well as 1.5m masks, to the distribution centres.
But the court found Amazon had not done enough to enforce physical distancing, to ensure that turnstiles and locker rooms were virus-free, or to increase cleaning of its warehouses. Unions said one worker infected with the virus was in intensive care.
Customers who order from third-party companies who use the Amazon website but send items directly will still receive their goods.
Amazon is no stranger to using shutdowns as a political weapon. In 2018 the company blocked shipments to Australia from its overseas stores after a sales tax was imposed on imported goods. But that standoff came to an end when Amazon backed down six months later, reopening overseas shipments in time for the Black Friday sales.