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It's the holiday shopping season, so you know somebody has to play the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. According to London's The Sunday Times, the bossy blowhard is none other than Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) .
In a scorching article, the paper delves into the demanding conditions of the company's U.K. fulfillment center in Bedfordshire. Among the allegations cited:
- Workers must put in a 10 1/2-hour graveyard shift over the weekend, apart from the five-day workweek.
- Employees face dismissal after taking six sick days.
- High quotas are set for productivity. For example, someone packing Xbox consoles for shipment must complete 140 units an hour
Naturally, this is just one side of the story. Conspiracy theorists may also note that the article came out on the eve of the busiest online shopping day of the season. If there was ever an opportunistic time to kick Amazon, that would be it. Amazon is also coming off a decent quarter where it hosed down its fourth-quarter outlook.
However, these are the holidays. Retailers -- dot-com and mall-based -- put in hard hours to meet the seasonal peak in demand.
Work is work, after all, and even the Amazon website emphasizes a heavy work ethic.
"We live in a time of unheralded revolution and insurmountable opportunity -- provided we make every minute count," reads an entry entitled "bias for action" under the website's employee values description.
Retailers can be ruthless this time of year, but Amazon can't afford to have its reputation tarnished. Several of the reader comments at the end of the article indicated that shoppers would be turning elsewhere for their holiday needs. If the overseas story begins to fester domestically, you can just imagine online chains like Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK ) or real world juggernaut Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) looking to catch some of Amazon's defecting shoppers.
But it shouldn't come to that, not in this tough economy. Eyeing some of the entries in Fortune's latest "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, you see names like Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) that have been letting employees go as they scale back. Even chart-topper Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is hacking away at some of its industry-envious perks.
Ultimately, Amazon will have to fire back because the last thing it wants to be seen as is a sweatshop. Scrooge eventually comes around, but you have to write your own happy endings sometimes.
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