The workers came from across Europe to pack boxes for the online retailer Amazon at distribution centers in Germany during the Christmas rush. They did not expect to be watched over -- some say intimidated -- by thugs in neo-Nazi-style clothing and jackboots.
On Friday, Amazon said it was investigating claims made in a documentary that a subcontractor employed security guards with neo-Nazi ties to oversee the immigrant workers.
The documentary, broadcast Wednesday on the ARD public television network, showed guards in black uniforms with H.E.S.S., after Hensel European Security Services, but also the last name of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, emblazoned on their chests.
According to the film, security guards employed by the subcontractor scared and intimidated hundreds of temporary workers from Hungary, Poland, Spain and other European countries.
The accusations ignited an outcry on social media and calls for consumers to think twice about placing their next order on Amazon. The company responded by pledging to investigate the claims, saying that it was in its own interest to provide a safe and secure working environment for all of its employees, temporary as well as permanent.
"Amazon does not tolerate discrimination or intimidation, and we will act swiftly to eliminate any such behavior," Ulrike Stöcker, a spokeswoman for the company in Germany, said in a statement.
Germany is Amazon's most important market after the United States. It recorded revenues of $8.7 billion here last year, part of the $61 billion it generated worldwide. The company, based in Seattle, employs tens of thousands of people around the world.
Heiner Reimann of the Ver.di union, which represents employee interests at a plant in Bad Hersfeld in central Germany where the filmmakers recorded the security guards, said that the young men, sporting black bomber jackets, jackboots and short, military-style haircuts, made invasive spot-checks at the temporary residences where the workers were stayed.
In the documentary, a woman from Spain who gave her name only as Silvinia, told the filmmakers that the guards kept them under constant observation.
"They go into the house when the people are not there," she said. "And also when they are there, sleeping or taking a shower."
Source: The New York Times | MELISSA EDDY