Amazon has installed flatscreen televisions in some of its warehouses to shame workers that have been fired for theft, Bloomberg reports. The e-commerce giant displays silhouettes of workers stamped with the words “terminated” or "arrested" on the televisions (and on paper pinned to boards if the warehouse doesn't have a TV), along with the details of their firing for theft-related charges, according to Bloomberg.
The digital displays also broadcast other announcements, according to 11 sources that talked to Bloomberg, including bonus opportunities and firings for workplace violence.
Overall, employee theft accounted for a major 34.5% of retail inventory shrink in 2014, the latest year to be studied by the National Retail Federation. The trade organization calculated a total $44 billion loss for retailers that year due to inventory shrink, which includes shoplifting, paperwork errors, and employee theft.
Security experts told Bloomberg that while Amazon’s tactics are familiar and a natural extension of more traditional loss-prevention techniques employed by businesses, they appear to be an extreme example. And Amazon warehouse workers told Bloomberg that the techniques gave the workplace a prison-like atmosphere. (Amazon did not respond to Bloomberg's requests for comment.)
“That’s a weird way to go about scaring people,” James McCracken, who used to work at Amazon’s warehouse in San Bernardino, CA, told Bloomberg. “I think that’s offensive.”
Theft by warehouse employees is a problem for Amazon according to Bloomberg, with thefts listed on the TVs ranging from small lighters to iPads.
But while the tactic seems creepy, many other workers told Bloomberg that they’re more bothered by the company’s low pay, high expectations for speed, and dismal working conditions, which includes waiting in line, often in inclement weather and always without pay, to be frisked for items that may have been taken.
Complaints of a harsh working environment have also made their way to Amazon's corporate wing. In August, the New York Times published a bitting expose of Amazon's corporate culture, with sources describing it as a despotic workplace that grinds workers down with long hours and unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, the Times also gathered stories of sick employees being unfairly edged out, and a woman pressured to return to work soon after a miscarriage.
The article incited backlash against the company and prompted CEO Jeff Bezos to respond, saying that the company has zero tolerance for "any such lack of empathy" described in the piece. Other employees came to Amazon's defense, saying that this type of high-speed culture is necessary for its success (and not all that uncommon in other tech companies).
But both the Times piece and this Bloomberg article come at a time when workplace issues, in warehouses and stores, are now coming to the national conscience. As the economy improves, retailers are finding it harder to attract and retain top talent, forcing them to raise wages to become more competitive. Stories about tough working conditions at Amazon's warehouses might make hiring even tougher.