Stocks up, warehouses shut: Weal and woes of Amazon Inc during Covid-19

Amazon is hiring 175,000 more workers at a time when many businesses have cut back and are seeking federal aid
With much of the globe in various stages of lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has become a lifeline to many shoppers. However, the world's largest online retailer is also grappling with delivery delays and mounting complaints from workers who worry about contacting the contagion at work.

The company's website hit 2.54 billion visitors in March, according to an online research company Comscore. That is a 65 per cent jump from the same period last year. 

While retailers like Walmart and Dollar General that sell essential products have seen their shares soar 8 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, Amazon stocks are up by 22 per cent so far this year.

The company is also hiring 175,000 more workers at a time when many businesses have cut back and are seeking federal aid.

However, at the same time, Amazon's vast empire is showing cracks. Deliveries that used to take just hours to arrive can instead take weeks or even months. High demand items like toilet paper and paper towels are frustratingly out of stock.

But the biggest issue faced by the company is persistent complaints by warehouse workers of grueling hours of backbreaking work with little protection against catching the coronavirus. This has increased pressure on the company to take steps that could further slow down operations, including shutting down some of its warehouses and easing productivity quotas.

Recently a French court ordered Amazon to stop delivering non-essential products for a month and to work out better worker safety measures. Amazon responded by closing all its French warehouses, saying it is too complicated to separate out its activities. Small groups of workers have staged walkouts at Amazon warehouses in New York, Chicago and Detroit, demanding that the facilities be closed for deep cleaning after workers there tested positive for the virus. Kentucky's governor ordered a warehouse in Shepherdsville closed for several days last month after workers there got infected.

However, Amazon has refused to say how many workers have fallen ill and said it has stepped up protection measures, ramping up cleaning, implementing temperature checks, racing to distribute masks, staggering shifts and spreading out tables in break rooms.

USTR blacklists several overseas Amazon operation

Meanwhile, the United States for the first time added five of Amazon's overseas operations to its list of "notorious markets" where pirated goods are sold. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) on Wednesday added's domains in Canada, France, Germany, India and the United Kingdom to its annual blacklist.

However, the e-commerce giant dismissed the move as part of the Trump administration's "personal vendetta" against it. The company statement read, "We strongly disagree with the characterization of Amazon in this USTR report. This purely political act is another example of the administration using the US government to advance a personal vendetta against Amazon.'' The Seattle-based company said it has taken aggressive steps to combat counterfeiting."

USTR also said Wednesday that Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela remained on its priority watch list'' of countries that do not adequately protect intellectual property. It removed Kuwait from the priority list, saying the country is updating its intellectual property laws and stepping up enforcement against piracy.

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