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At Work and Under Watch

Surveillance and suffering at Amazon and Walmart warehouses

Amazon and Walmart are the two largest private employers in the United States, and together these two megacorporations have amassed unprecedented levels of wealth. Both companies have succeeded by pioneering new methods of getting cheap goods to the American consumer—with unparalleled convenience and speed. Their outsized economic power, how ever, has a high cost, particularly to women and to members of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations. In fact, Amazon and Walmart have created business models that directly benefit from and perpetuate racial and class inequalities in the United States. In addition, both corporations reap high profits from increasingly oppressive forms of control, finding ever-new ways to exploit, discipline, and maximize the productivity of their workers. Amazon has been a pioneer in the area of worker surveillance and management in its warehouses, and Walmart, long known for adopting repressive practices to monitor workers, is also entering a new phase of accelerated technology deployment across its facilities.

This report shares findings from two recent surveys—the National Survey of Amazon Warehouse Workers and the National Survey of Walmart Warehouse Workers—that both explored the role that new forms of technology-enabled worker monitoring are playing in the lives of warehouse workers. The quantitative survey data is supplemented by qualitative ethnography and interviews conducted with Amazon and Walmart workers. Excerpts from these interviews are included throughout the report to provide insight into how technology-enabled surveillance is experienced by workers. This report reveals that regimes of measurement, surveillance, discipline, and data collection deployed by both companies unduly punish workers, stifle worker voice, and have negative impacts on worker health, safety, and well-being.

As Amazon and Walmart are set to enter directly into competition for market dominance in the online retail sphere, it is crucial to unpack the harms that speedy delivery schedules, technology-enabled monitoring, and high-volume logistics operations are causing workers laboring in warehouses across the country. This report highlights a range of critical challenges that workers are facing and demonstrates that at present both Amazon and Walmart have failed to adopt policies to adequately address these challenges. The report concludes by calling on each company to take specific steps toward aligning its policies with its human rights and due diligence obligations and for the federal government to enact new legislation to protect workers and regulate the warehousing industry. This is a crucial moment for both companies to change course and ensure that technology-enabled surveillance is not actively causing harm to the American worker—particularly women and BIPOC workers, who already experience disproportionate levels of inequality, policing, and surveillance by the state.

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