Online retailing giant Amazon has been accused of employing security guards with links to neo-Nazis to intimidate foreign workers at distribution centers in Germany.
Süddeutschen Zeitung, one of Germany's most respected daily newspapers, is calling the scandal a "shitstorm." The allegations, which were first reported in an undercover investigation by the German TV network ARD, involve guards from a firm called HESS Security, which ARD suggests may be an allusion to Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy.
Amazon employs some 5,000 temporary workers from around Europe in packing and distribution centers around Germany. The online retailing giant hired guards from HESS Security, which is headed by a man identified as Uwe L. who is reportedly associated with right-wing football hooligans and convicted neo-Nazis, to maintain order at the hostels and budget hotels where the foreign workers are housed. "Many of the workers are afraid," the ARD investigation claims.
The ARD story showed guards searching the bedrooms and kitchens of the foreign workers, who according to one employee tell them "we are the police here." The guards, who have military haircuts and wear intimidating black uniforms and boots, sometimes wore clothing made by Thor Steinar, a brand associated with neo-Nazis that has been banned by the German parliament and the Bundesliga professional football association. As Britain's Independentnotes, "ironically, Amazon stopped selling the clothing... in 2009."
Some of the guards also reportedly frisked workers following meals to make sure they didn't take any bread rolls. A Spanish worker named Maria was allegedly expelled from the chalet she shared with five other workers because she dried her clothes on a heater. Maria alleges that HESS guards intimidated her as they ordered her to leave.
The ARD journalists investigating Amazon booked a room in the same hotel where many of the foreign workers are housed. When some of them were caught using their cameras, HESS guards allegedly detained them. When they refused to hand over their film, they were held for nearly an hour before police arrived to rescue them.
Other foreign temporary workers hired by Amazon reported being paid less than they were promised. "They don't see any way of complaining," United Services Union spokesman Heiner Reimann told ARD. "They are all too frightened of being sent home without a job."
Amazon responded to the ARD story by releasing a statement promising to investigate the claims. "Although the security firm was not contracted by Amazon we are, of course, currently examining the allegations concerning the behavior of security guards and will take the appropriate measures immediately. We do not tolerate discrimination or intimidation."
The allegations involving HESS security follow on the heels of accusations that Amazon employees in a British packing and distribution center are toiling in conditions that have been compared to a sweatshop.