Amazon hired Pinkerton operatives ‘to spy on warehouse workers and labor unions’

Amazon hired operatives from the Pinkerton detective agency to spy on warehouse workers, track labor unionization efforts and keep tabs on social justice groups, a new report claims. 

Motherboard described a trove of internal Amazon reports that it said outlined the online retail giant’s ‘obsessive monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements’ in an article published Monday.  

The reports leaked to Motherboard were written in 2019 by intelligence analysts with Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center, the security division that is responsible for protecting employees, vendors and assets at its facilities worldwide.  

They revealed how Amazon recruited operatives from Pinkerton, a US-based spy agency with a decades-long record of infiltrating labor unions to thwart strikes, to monitor workers’ labor and union-organizing activities around Europe.  

Jeff Bezos’ firm also tracked European activists – including Greta Thunberg’s climate group Fridays4future, the Yellow Vest movement in France and Greenpeace – because they believed those demonstrations were a threat to their business.

Some of the documents suggested that Amazon could be using the same surveillance tactics in the United States, Motherboard said.  

Amazon hired operatives from the Pinkerton detective agency to spy on warehouse workers, track labor unionization efforts and monitor social justice groups, a new report claims

Amazon hired operatives from the Pinkerton detective agency to spy on warehouse workers, track labor unionization efforts and monitor social justice groups, a new report claims

Amazon hired operatives from the Pinkerton detective agency to spy on warehouse workers, track labor unionization efforts and monitor social justice groups, a new report claims

Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed to Motherboard that it had hired Pinkerton to gather intelligence on its workers. 

‘Like any other responsible business, we maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe,’ Levandowski said. 

‘That includes having an internal investigations team who work with law enforcement agencies as appropriate, and everything we do is in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities. 

‘Any attempt to sensationalize these activities or suggest we’re doing something unusual or wrong is irresponsible and incorrect.’ 

Amazon has allegedly been tracking a variety of European activist movements - including Greta Thunberg's (pictured) climate group Fridays4future, the Yellow Vest movement in France and Greenpeace - that are viewed as a potential threat to its business

Amazon has allegedly been tracking a variety of European activist movements - including Greta Thunberg's (pictured) climate group Fridays4future, the Yellow Vest movement in France and Greenpeace - that are viewed as a potential threat to its business

Amazon has allegedly been tracking a variety of European activist movements – including Greta Thunberg’s (pictured) climate group Fridays4future, the Yellow Vest movement in France and Greenpeace – that are viewed as a potential threat to its business

Levandowski denied the assertion that Pinkerton operatives were working on the ground – contradicting one internal report from November 2019.  

In that report, an analyst wrote that a Pinkerton operative was ‘inserted’ in an Amazon warehouse in Poland to investigate whether management was coaching job applicants on how to succeed in interviews, Motherboard reported.

Amazon and Pinkerton did not immediately return DailyMail.com’s requests for comment on Monday. 

Internal GSOC emails obtained by the outlet also showed that analysts received detailed updates about labor organizing activities at warehouses around the world. 

The updates pinpointed the exact date, time and location of those activities, as well as who reported them and how many people were involved, Motherboard reported. 

Other documents allegedly showed how analysts kept tabs on how many warehouse workers attended union meetings and specific grievances they shared about their work conditions.   

Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed to Motherboard that it had hired Pinkerton to gather intelligence on its workers. Pinkerton, which was founded in the US in 1850, has a decades-long record of infiltrating labor unions to thwart strikes (file photo)

Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed to Motherboard that it had hired Pinkerton to gather intelligence on its workers. Pinkerton, which was founded in the US in 1850, has a decades-long record of infiltrating labor unions to thwart strikes (file photo)

Lisa Levandowski, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed to Motherboard that it had hired Pinkerton to gather intelligence on its workers. Pinkerton, which was founded in the US in 1850, has a decades-long record of infiltrating labor unions to thwart strikes (file photo)

Internal documents allegedly showed how Amazon analysts kept tabs on how many warehouse workers attended union meetings and specific grievances they shared about their work conditions. Pictured: Amazon workers protest outside a warehouse in Wroclaw, Poland

Internal documents allegedly showed how Amazon analysts kept tabs on how many warehouse workers attended union meetings and specific grievances they shared about their work conditions. Pictured: Amazon workers protest outside a warehouse in Wroclaw, Poland

Internal documents allegedly showed how Amazon analysts kept tabs on how many warehouse workers attended union meetings and specific grievances they shared about their work conditions. Pictured: Amazon workers protest outside a warehouse in Wroclaw, Poland

Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, compared Amazon’s recruitment of Pinkerton to tactics used by industry tycoons who went to great lengths to crush workers’ strikes in the 19th century – sometimes with the help of the same detective firm.  

‘For years people have been comparing big tech bosses to nineteenth-century robber barons, and now by using Pinkertons to do his dirty work, Bezos is making that connection even clearer,’ Hoffman told Motherboard.

Hoffman further asserted that Amazon’s anti-union tactics are creating a ‘global human rights crisis’.  

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (pictured) has faced mounting scrutiny over his firm's perceived anti-union activities

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (pictured) has faced mounting scrutiny over his firm's perceived anti-union activities

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (pictured) has faced mounting scrutiny over his firm’s perceived anti-union activities

‘Most American companies that try to succeed in Europe have adapted to the fact that there are strong unions here,’ she said. ‘Those that haven’t, such as Walmart and Toy R’ Us have left. But Amazon is an outlier.

‘This isn’t the way companies operate in Europe — ignoring the law, spying on workers, using every page of the US union busting playbook, as if they don’t have enough power and money on their own. 

‘They need to know they’re not going to get away with that in Europe.’

The allegations outlined in Monday’s report joined a string of evidence of Amazon’s robust efforts to monitor and crackdown on its workers unionizing. 

It follows reports in September that Amazon bosses were spying on delivery drivers to see if they were preparing to protest working conditions at the height of the pandemic. 

There were also claims in Recode that Amazon used a software to decipher whether Whole Foods staff would unionize. 

Amazon and Pinkerton did not immediately return DailyMail.com’s requests for comment on Monday.    

History of the Pinkerton detective agency

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was founded in Chicago in 1850 by Scotsman Allan Pinkerton.

At the height of its power in the early 20th century, Pinkerton was the largest law enforcement agency in the country. 

The US Department of Justice contracted out investigative work to Pinkerton in the 1870s, before the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 banned the government from employing individuals affiliated with the firm. 

Pinkerton gained a reputation for intimidating factory workers while helping companies keep unionists out of their operations. 

Today, the word Pinkerton is still associated with union conflicts – but the firm focuses efforts on threat intelligence, risk management and executive protection.

The company was purchased by Swedish security company Securitas AB in 1999. It’s headquarters is now located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

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