Did Amazon just end criticisms about its COVID-19 safety record?

Discussion
Photo: Amazon
Oct 02, 2020
George Anderson

Amazon.com, which came under criticism from its own employees and scrutiny from media outlets over safety measures it took early in the COVID-19 pandemic, announced that 19,816 of its frontline workers were diagnosed with the virus between March 1 and September 19. The number of infections, according to Amazon, puts it well below the rate among the general U.S. population since the outbreak began.

The e-tailing and technology giant, which has called on other companies to follow its lead in providing similar transparency on case numbers and safety steps taken during the health crisis, reports that the infection rate among its workers has been 1,442 per 100,000. The rate among the general population has been 2,180 cases per 100,000 people, based on figures published by Johns Hopkins University during the period in question. Amazon posits that it would have had nearly 34,000 workers sickened with the virus if its numbers matched those of the country as a whole. Amazon says that it employs 1,372,000 frontline employees in the U.S.

In a blog post, Amazon maintains that it had been “conservative” in its comparative analysis.

“First, we cast a wide net by including both confirmed and presumptive cases in the Amazon figures. Second, actual COVID-19 rates in the general population are greater than the official counts because not everyone in the general public gets screened for symptoms or tested. By contrast, Amazon employees are regularly screened for symptoms and are increasingly being tested at work, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms, in order to identify asymptomatic cases. And of course, a positive test does not mean someone became infected as a result of their employment with Amazon — these individuals can be exposed in many ways outside of work.”

Amazon is also calling on other major corporations to join in releasing similar information.

“Unfortunately, there are no standards for reporting or sharing this data, and there’s very little comparable information about infection rates and quarantine rates available from other companies. We all have a vested interest in returning to some version of normal and safely helping our communities and the economy. We hope sharing this data and our learnings will encourage others to follow, and will prove useful as states make decisions about reopening public facilities and employers consider whether and how to bring people back to work.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your reaction to Amazon’s decision to release data about COVID-19 infections among its frontline workers? Will this silence critics of the company and is it something other large retailers should do, as well?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The big question is, what did you do about it?"
"The level of testing and contact tracing that Amazon (in addition to Apple and even the NBA) has implemented is smart and simply good business."
"Unlike its past opacity, Amazon now confidently seeks opportunities to prove its integrity, sincerity and willingness to change."

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21 Comments on "Did Amazon just end criticisms about its COVID-19 safety record?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The number of cases reported is shocking. I recall when there were reports of Amazon employees contracting the virus and the ensuing issues and challenges with their employees safety, but I was utterly shocked to hear that their cases are now in excess of 19,000. As startling as these numbers are, I think Amazon is right to publish this data and encourage others to do the same. The fact that their infection rate is significantly below the general population is encouraging, but it’s clear that COVID-19 continues to present a serious health risk to frontline employees and society at large.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I too was shocked. I would have expected it to be higher. At least as high as the general population and based on the employee complaints and press stories maybe 50,000 cases or more for over 1.3 million employees.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

The level of testing and contact tracing that Amazon (in addition to Apple and even the NBA) has implemented is smart and simply good business. Most unfortunately, the cost of these sophisticated programs are likely prohibitive for other retailers to consider- outside of it being an ethical, moral, and economic imperative.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I appreciate the transparency, and definitely encourage all businesses to do the same thing. I also appreciate that they put it in perspective so those looking at the data would not be alarmed at the large number.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I have a lot more questions. What did Amazon do about the PTO of those 20,000 people? What percentage were symptomatic? How many died? What was the mean time between diagnosis and cure? Did the company monitor the spread?

With all respects, the world of false equivalencies (better than the general population – that is totally meaningless given the early days when the most vulnerable, who wouldn’t have been working got sick) just don’t work here.

The big question is, what did you do about it?

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

I agree wholeheartedly with you Paula. There is always an orchestrated narrative built into the release of corporate numbers, especially around internal health and safety metrics. Amazon has a number of warehouse health and safety issues to manage now. Turns out warehouses with robots are creating a high number of warehouse worker injuries, as humans try to keep up with robots. Human safety is always gauged by the present and what is being done now to protect employees. Safety records are a constantly evolving metric. Yes, other large retailers should release their safety records as well.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I agree that the comparison to the general population is nothing more than PR spin. You’ve asked all the right questions that any company or other organization, reporting such data, needs to be asked. It’s not enough to just tell us how many cases you have. What everyone wants to know is what you have done about it, what you’re doing to introduce new safety standards, etc. Given Jeff Bezos announcing to stockholders that they shouldn’t get used to any profits because he’s investing $4 billion+ into protecting his end-to-end logistics operation, we should expect to receive more details than what has been presented so far.

FrankKochenash
Guest

There is quite a bit of information about what Amazon has done on their Day One blog. It’s a good resource for all things Amazon.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Transparency is the key to running a good business, no matter if it is in the area of financial reporting or the welfare of the employees (or maybe most appropriately these days, running a country).

Every company should take these type of steps. It isn’t hard. It isn’t costly. It is a matter of will.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I have very mixed feelings about this news. On the one hand, I applaud Amazon for its transparency. On the other hand, 19,800 people contracted a very serious disease. I see very little empathy in their reporting, and a lot of self-congratulatory “we did better than most” remarks. And as Paula Rosenblum commented, they provided very little information as to PTO and health care support for those 19,800 people, nor did they provide any specifics on the practices they implemented to help monitor the spread. Regarding encouraging other retailers to share their data, I suspect the only thing this announcement will do is encourage those whose numbers are also outperforming the population at large to do so. On the whole I am disappointed, at best, by this announcement.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Sharing COVID-19 data gives Amazon an edge and puts pressure on rivals to do the same. Such transparency helps Amazon counter criticism of unsafe work conditions to boost brand trust.

Unlike its past opacity, Amazon now confidently seeks opportunities to prove its integrity, sincerity and willingness to change.

Recent investments in brand trust to directly counter criticism of weaknesses include:

  • A pandemic plan that involved 150 process changes and procuring resources like face masks to protect workers;
  • Creating an anti-counterfeit unit to reduce fraud, especially ahead of the Amazon Luxury launch;
  • Marketing campaigns that celebrate the stories of its diverse workforce.

Even Jeff Bezos’ statements about private labels surprised critics with his honesty. Amazon knows that earning trust means earning loyalty, so they’re taking it seriously.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

I’d rather be talking about what steps Amazon took to keep its workers safe, provide them with support, PPE, and work place safety protocols, and how they took care of workers and families when they did get sick. Maybe also how Amazon is helping other companies or public institutions to learn from the experience and their success, and that they are distributing some of the material that did help as a public service. That would be newsworthy. Otherwise it seems like puffery and a missed opportunity to do some real good.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

All businesses need to be transparent about employees testing COVID-19 positive. If an employee tests positive, the company must help determine who may have been infected by this employee. As for Amazon, with as many employees as they have, I am pleasantly surprised that the numbers appear to be lower than the average per 100,000 in the U.S.

Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

I would like to see the similar reporting from Walmart, Target, Kroger, Home Depot and the other giants. Also, state-by-state breakdowns. Then we can compare the effectiveness of steps taken or not taken and the effect of differing state policies. I think Amazon took a courageous step that others should follow.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 25 days ago

You may be able to cobble together some of this information if you look into OSHA fines against the businesses you mentioned. In fact Kroger just got hit with some OSHA fines in CA earlier this week. Part of the OSHA fine Kroger got in California was for not properly reporting COVID Cases/Deaths. So I am not sure the data you are asking for out of these retailers, is even readily available.

Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

I am not a big fan of cobbling together data from various sources that have varying tracking criteria. It would be much better if the retailers created a standardized report or used the Amazon report as a rough template. Detailed data is needed in the workplace, especially for essential workers, to fully understand the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for a future that minimizes sickness and death.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

OK, so kudos for the transparency about the past and present. Now what’s the game plan going forward? And can the news of the day help put the focus back on the science of beating the pandemic? Turns out that “masks aren’t a good look” didn’t work out so well — anywhere.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I don’t think it will accomplish much. Sadly, people will simply look at (what they perceive as) a large number, assume it should be zero, and lay blame.

And to be thorough, although Amazon’s claim is logical, the implicit assumption that the general population is the proper metric is open to debate.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
Not always an Amazon fan, but statistically they’ve done a good job looking at cases and putting in place some basic safety measures has given their employees a slight benefit over the general population. Some inherent biases include the proclivity to follow outlined directives from health leaders (e.g. wearing masks, distancing, etc). And they do have a call to action — asking other businesses to be transparent about tracking their employees. However, this is an unreasonable request, and for companies who are unable to commit resources or prove they’ve followed CDC guidelines, it can be a PR nightmare with legal implications. Regardless, 34,000 employees with COVID-19 is not a reason to gloat, so it seems more as a sincere effort to build collaboration across industry giants to help lessen the effects of such an awful disease. Will it stop deterioration of worker backlash and lawsuits from workers contracting COVID-19? Probably not, but it suggests that issues around worker safety are more localized than systemic across the company. It doesn’t reduce the responsibility of the company… Read more »
storewanderer
Guest
1 month 25 days ago

When I first saw the number, I thought it was a huge number. I didn’t know off the top of my head how many total employees Amazon has in the US. I think it is best the number be directly presented with the total number of employees. It still sounds like a big number, but if you do the math as a % it is about in line with what would be expected.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Amazon, like other companies, employs PR departments to find good things to say about their company. If comparative, they call on others to follow suit. There are however times it’s best to keep your data to yourself.

We understand that it’s good business to help employees remain healthy. However, in situations like COVID, it’s impossible to manage your employee’s behaviors after they go home. Worse, it’s fate; with a little bad luck, anyone can get the virus – even with a mask and social distancing.

I seriously doubt most consumers will understand that ~20,000 COVID cases in one company may be something to brag about.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The big question is, what did you do about it?"
"The level of testing and contact tracing that Amazon (in addition to Apple and even the NBA) has implemented is smart and simply good business."
"Unlike its past opacity, Amazon now confidently seeks opportunities to prove its integrity, sincerity and willingness to change."

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