Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Picture: BLOOMBERG /MATTHEW STAVER
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Picture: BLOOMBERG /MATTHEW STAVER

Seattle — A watchdog group is calling on Amazon to improve conditions for factory workers in China who make Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers, renewing criticisms that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the world’s wealthiest man on the backs of low-paid labourers.

The New York-based China Labour Watch has released a report following an investigation of working conditions at a factory in Hengyang owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry, the company known as Foxconn, which manufactures products for Amazon. The report offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Amazon produces voice-activated speakers that cost as little as $40 are made.

The report, which paints a picture of low pay and intense working conditions, includes the findings that "all workers are subject to long hours and low wages"; and "as wages are low, workers must rely on overtime hours to earn enough to maintain a decent standard of living".

Factory audit

Amazon said it had completed an audit of the factory in March and found violations regarding overtime and the use of dispatch workers, which it asked Foxconn to remedy.

"We immediately requested a corrective action plan from Foxconn Hengyang detailing their plan to remediate the issues identified, and we are conducting regular assessments," Amazon said, adding that it was committed to ensuring that these issues were resolved.

Foxconn said in a statement on Sunday that salary reviews were conducted regularly and all full-time and temporary employees received "pre-job training and additional training in their assigned departments".

The major electronics manufacturer in China was criticised for working conditions in plants where Apple devices were made, leading to the company installing safety netting to prevent worker suicides. Findings at the Amazon device factory were similar but less severe.

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, sells a variety of devices. Kindles and tablets help it sell more digital books. It has sold tens of millions of Echo voice-activated speakers, which can be used to dim lights, stream music and order pizza.

Amazon also has faced criticism for working conditions in its US warehouses. One civil action claim alleged it cheated workers out of pay by making them clock out before standing in security lines for theft-prevention measures before leaving the building.

Amazon prevailed in that case before the Supreme Court, which ruled the workers were not entitled to payment for security screenings.