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Amazon temporarily suspends warehouse operations in France

Amazon temporarily suspends warehouse operations in France
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Amazon said Wednesday that it would temporarily shut down its distribution centers in France after a court ruled that the company could only deliver food, hygiene and medical products until it addressed workplace safety at its warehouses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes as the online retail giant faces intensifying scrutiny both domestically and abroad over what it's doing to keep workers safe.

A French union has reportedly accused Amazon of endangering lives, and a court on Tuesday ruled that the company failed to sufficiently protect its warehouse employees, according to reports. The court reportedly gave the company a Wednesday deadline to comply with its order regarding shipments or face a fine of about $1 million per day. 

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Amazon, which has vowed to appeal the ruling, said in a statement to The Hill that it would suspend activities in its six French distribution centers. The company pushed back on the ruling, saying that it's made a "huge investment... in additional safety measures to keep our hard-working, dedicated colleagues safe, while ensuring they had continued employment at this difficult time."

"We remain perplexed by the court’s decision, which was made in spite of the overwhelming evidence we provided about the safety measures we have implemented, and have launched an appeal," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Cheeseman said.

Amazon said that the court ruling would have "consequences" for many French citizens, including thousands of the retail giant's employees. 

The warehouse employees will be told to stay at home for the time being, though Amazon will be able to serve French customers through independent companies that sell on Amazon, Cheeseman said.

Amazon has hired thousands of employees in recent weeks to keep up with a rapid rise in orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the company has faced growing criticism from workers and labor groups who say it hasn't taken comprehensive action to keep its warehouses safe.

More than 70 Amazon facilities in the U.S. have had at least one employee test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Athena, a coalition of advocacy groups that focuses on working conditions at Amazon.

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The company confirmed on Tuesday that a California warehouse worker died from COVID-19. It is unclear where the worker contracted the virus; Amazon said that the person was last on site in early March and did not exhibit symptoms at the time. 

French labor inspectors earlier this month determined that Amazon needed to implement firmer social distancing restrictions and address a lack of hand sanitizer and masks, the Times noted. Amazon said that it had responded by providing sanitizing gels and masks, and checking temperatures. 

—Updated at 6:04 p.m.