Amazon ends contract of 'neo-Nazi security firm' over alleged mistreatment of immigrant workers

Amazon said the company had ended its relationship with Hensel European Security Services with immediate effect

Robert Williams
Monday 18 February 2013 17:06 GMT
An Amazon warehouse in Germany
An Amazon warehouse in Germany (Getty Images)

The online retailer Amazon has ended the contract of a security firm at one of its German warehouses after complaints about alleged mistreatment of foreign temporary workers.

In a German documentary broadcast last week the firm, Hensel European Security Services (Hess), was accused of harrassing seasonal workers, as well as wearing clothes linked to Germany's neo-Nazi scene.

Amid growing criticism an Amazon spokeswoman in Germany today said the company had ended its relationship with Hensel European Security Services "with immediate effect."

"Amazon has a zero tolerance limit for discrimination and intimidation and expects the same of other companies we work with," spokeswoman Ulrike Stoecker said.

The documentary, made by state broadcaster ARD, showed staff of the security company - whose initials spell out the surname of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess - wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts.

A number of the guards were shown wearing Thor Steinar clothing - a Berlin-based designer brand associated with the far-right in Germany.

The programme makers interviewed people claiming they were intimidated by the security guards, who were stationed at a holiday camp where the temporary staff were housed.

The company, hired by one of Amazon's subcontractors, last week denied it supported far-right opinions: "We employ Christians, Muslims and Buddhists," the company said in a statement Friday. "The allegations of far-right sympathies can't be reconciled with that."

The ARD documentary alleged a broader climate of intimidation at Amazon's seven logistics centers in Germany, including threats of random staff searches, constant pressure to perform better and firing of workers who complained.

It also appeared to show employees' rooms being searched, and staff being frisked at breakfast and constantly watched.

The ARD report echoes allegations by German union ver.di, which says Amazon's temporary workers face particular difficulties because many have been brought in from other European countries and don't understand that they are protected by Germany's stringent labor laws.

The German government said the Federal Labor Agency is investigating an Amazon subcontractor, which it didn't name, in the wake of the documentary.

"We expect the results of the special investigation during the course of the week," Labor Ministry spokeswoman Christina Wendt told reporters today.

"There is the option, if mistreatment actually took place, of removing (the subcontractor's) license," she added.

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