O nline shopping is alluring. Like many people who work long hours, it’s difficult for me to find time to do my weekly shop in person: it appears that buying over the internet is a tailor- made solution. I can even get my purchases delivered on a Sunday; furthermore, it is often cheaper.
When something seems too good to be true, we should pause. Advances in technology regularly come with a downside: as Britain industrialised in the 19th century, the poor were thrust into unhygienic slums. It took the efforts of multiple reforming governments over many years to ameliorate the effects of progress.
Online shopping has hit our retail sector: many landmarks of the high street, including Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser have had to close branches. Some, such as BHS, have disappeared altogether. They took their jobs with them.
The new jobs in places like Amazon’s warehouses are not a like-for-like replacement.
Recently, I was made aware of a case concerning one of my constituents which gave me cause for concern.
A national survey of all Amazon staff showed 89% felt exploited. A recent investigation revealed 600 ambulances have been called to Amazon warehouses in the UK over the past 3 years.
On June 25th, I wrote to the Prime Minister that I felt obliged to ensure that the working practices adopted by Amazon are humane and reasonable. To this end, I put forward an FOI request in respect to Peterborough’s Amazon warehouse. My hope is that by shining a light on working conditions they may be improved everywhere.
There is much to be concerned about as technology proceeds apace: Uber may not have yet landed in Peterborough with its combination of convenience and cheap fares, but the experience of London shows that its arrival would not be an unalloyed blessing. Uber has had to recently set up a call centre to handle complaints and commit to reporting violent incidents involving its drivers to the police: one wonders why these obvious necessities were not in place from the start. Unsurprisingly, when regulators did catch up with Uber, they were deemed “not fit and proper” to hold a license. We need a reforming government to actively intervene, and blunt the too sharp ends of technological change.
Until we have a such a government, however, it’s incumbent upon us as individual consumers to be conscious of the trade-offs we are making: yes, we may get convenience and low prices. But goods and services cost what they cost: if the consumer doesn’t pay, then it may very well be that the worker pays with inadequate facilities, safety and pay.