AMZN

Amazon.com, Inc.

1751.0000
USD
-1.52%
1751.0000
USD
-1.52%
1307.0000 2035.8000
52 weeks
52 weeks

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How the French rose up against a huge Amazon logistics centre

For Gilles Renevier, a vet from a village south-east of Lyon, fighting Amazon’s plans to build a vast logistics centre in his area was “common sense”.

The US firm was due to begin construction of a huge centre for packing and delivery beside Lyon airport in south-east France this year, but two local associations have lodged legal files to halt the build.

They warn there would be a damaging increase in road traffic and pollution with more than 1,000 lorries and 4,500 small vehicle movements a day, and no proper planning nor public transport to compensate for it in an area already saturated with traffic. They also argue the build would destroy 33 protected species of animal life without justification.

“We won’t back down,” Renevier said. “This project is an outdated way of doing things. We have to think about how to live better in a society with less pollution.”

There has been a rise in anti-Amazon feeling among French campaigners, bolstered by gilets jaunes demonstrations against the firm. French consumers spent more than €38bn shopping online last year, and Amazon is the market leader. But a series of yellow vest blockades outside Amazon depots has heightened a row over global tech firms’ tax advantages.

When the anti-government gilet jaunes protesters began their nationwide tax revolt in November, it was aimed at the state rather than companies, and there were protests at unemployment offices and attacks on local government buildings.

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Gilets jaunes resume protests and clash with Paris riot police - video

Over the past four months, campaigners have sporadically blockaded several Amazon depots and buildings, from Toulouse in the south-west to Montélimar in the south-east and Douai in the north, before being moved on by riot police.

One young yellow vest protester from Douai said: “Tax in France isn’t fair. Several of my mates work at Amazon. How come low-paid workers, toiling all day in an Amazon hangar, have to pay all their tax and big companies get to arrange how to pay the least tax possible?”

Raymond Stocco, a gilets jaunes organiser in Toulouse, said: “The anger is very real. Workers are taxed to the hilt. Why should large groups – Google, Amazon – be able to find a way round it?”

Amazon pointed out it had invested €2bn in France since 2010, and said it employed 7,500 permanent workers at 20 sites. “We pay the entirety of taxes required in France, as we do in all countries that we operate in,” the company said.

In the past Amazon has been criticised for minimising its tax bill in France and other European countries by channeling sales through Luxembourg, which offers tax breaks to foreign companies that base themselves there. Amazon has said it now has a branch in France and lodges retail sales, charges and profits in the country.

An Amazon employee working in northern France. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

The French government, seeking to calm the gilets jaunes movement, has announced it will press ahead alone with a new tax on big tech companies including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

But tension has grown after a handful of Amazon staff said they had been sacked because they had expressed support for the gilets jaunes movement on social media.

An employment tribunal in Orléans is considering a case for unfair dismissal of an employee in his 30s who had been working for five years preparing Amazon delivery parcels at a depot in Saran. He lost his job three weeks after writing a post on Facebook in November using the term “we, gilets jaunes” and suggesting blocking a depot. At a tribunal hearing this month, Amazon refused to give him his job back. The case continues.

“This is a question of public liberty,” said Avi Bitton, the worker’s lawyer. “Going on strike is a right in the French constitution, just like the freedom of speech. There was a national yellow vest movement, my client wanted to take part in it. Is he supposed to stay silent on that national movement just because he’s an Amazon employee?”

Khaled Bouchajra, a trade unionist for the leftwing CGT at the Saran Amazon site, said trade unions were strong and respected within the firm but any issue between workers and Amazon was seen by the French public as “rich against poor”.

The mood among gilets jaunes protesters worsened when it was perceived that Amazon’s sales could benefit from the impact of their Saturday demonstrations on high-street retailers in the run-up to Christmas.

But in fact, although French online sales rose at the end of last year, they were not as high as expected.

On the issue of staff dismissals, Amazon said the gilet jaunes movement was not linked to Amazon. The company said: “That is why posting an appeal to block [a site] on social networks to harm your company does not correspond to exercising the right to strike, but on the contrary is a serious violation of a worker’s obligations.”

The company has not commented on the opposition to the new logistics centre in Lyon. A local mayor who approved planning permission, Pierre Marmonier, said: “I understand that the idea of Amazon scares people, it can be complicated. But all the questions I asked of Amazon were answered and they reassured me.”

Evelyne Lavezzari, a local resident whose association, Acenas, began the action to halt construction at the site, said: “This project is harmful to us locally, we had to take a stand and we’ll keep going.”


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