Amazon under Macron: when e-commerce kills jobs

From Brittany to Sarthe, collectives are organizing against plans to set up Amazon on their territory. While in 2017, only three French regions hosted warehouses, today none are spared. But where is the problem, if the multinational creates jobs? This is often the discourse held by elected officials in favor of e-commerce giants. However, Friends of the Earth France has just produced a report deconstructing this argument. In reality, online sales undermine and precarious the job market.

At the end of the Pointe du Raz, emblematic place of Brittany, a banner: Macron delivered our region to Amazon ». This March 24, a national day against the establishment of Amazon mobilizes collective citizens. Here, in Brittany, the Stop Amazon Briec collective has been fighting since the spring of 2020 against a warehouse project ten kilometers from Quimper. A hangar of one thousand square meters, whose construction, in progress, could be completed in the summer.

This shed is located “on an all-designated place, close to the dual carriageway, in an industrial zone… Here, twelve years ago, he had had a great fight against a gas-fired power station… » remembers Catherine Malbranque, a member of this collective. A place where there is also a wetland to be protected. Amazon has acquired a plot just uphill. “All runoff is cut, this modifies the water circuit, and unbalances the ecosystems”laments the activist.

Despite the environmental and social consequences of the well-known Amazon establishments, these have multiplied since the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017. In five years, the multinational has gone from 4 logistics warehouses in France to… 44. Only three regions were concerned by establishments in 2017. Now, they all are.

A five-year period favorable to the deployment of Amazon

In the Île-de-France region alone, Amazon has grown from 0 to 13 warehouses under the five-year term. “Amazon is the leader in France in e-commerce, the one with the most market share. And this, particularly in the most energy-intensive and massively relocated sectors: textiles and energy »recalls Étienne Coubard, mobilization officer at Friends of the Earth France.

The story of Amazon under Macron is not just about an inevitable deployment. The government did indeed encourage it. In January 2021, for example, the finance bill halves the local taxes paid for online sales warehouses. In addition, the parliamentarians of La République en Marche defeated amendments to the Climate Law, from various political groups, proposing to better supervise the construction of these warehouses.

“Tax gifts, administrative and political support have enabled this massive and rapid establishment”explain the Friends of the Earth in a report, “Employment and e-commerce”, published on March 24. “Yet the numbers are there. They are overwhelming and known to public authorities: e-commerce is destroying jobs and businesses at high speed”.

3,800 jobs destroyed in 2019 alone

The creation of jobs is however the main argument of the e-commerce giants. And it is often taken up by local elected officials. The mayor of Briec highlighted from the start the attractiveness of this project, the creation of jobs…” remembers Catherine Malbranque.

The problem is that e-commerce brands work in the same market as those in physical sales, which are trying to digitize. “The e-commerce giants have an additional windfall, with additional products. So in terms of job destruction, it’s completely interconnected »explains Etienne Coubard. For example, FNAC sells the same products online as it presents in stores. Amazon, Cdiscount or AliBaba have an expandable catalog, constantly offering new products. Enough to gain market share over other players, large or small.

According to the Friends of the Earth France report, the development of online sales would have destroyed 3,800 jobs in commerce in 2019. This is a net balance: the jobs created have been subtracted from the jobs lost.

The NGO updates a study by two economists from the Kavala Capital firm, published in November 2020, from which it takes up the methodology. According to this previous study, e-commerce destroyed 82,000 jobs between 2009 and 2018. Again, this is a net balance. The duo of economists identified 114,000 job cuts, offset by some hiring in e-commerce. The ratio was then as follows: six jobs destroyed in convenience stores, against one job created in online sales.

“The stronger online commerce in a sector, the greater the decline in employment”

At the forefront of this job loss: small businesses. This being, “Medium-sized businesses are more impacted than before”reveals the Friends of the Earth in view of the figures for 2019. The diagram is that of a ” slow death “ according to Etienne Coubard. Namely: wages are first lowered to resist competition from e-commerce giants, such as Amazon. Then, jobs are cut. And we end up, sometimes, by putting the key under the door. The branch most affected by these job losses? clothing, “with more than 4,800 jobs destroyed” in 2019.

These conclusions match those of a report published in February 2021 on the impacts of online commerce, commissioned by the government. This report was conducted by France Strategy, the General Inspectorate of Finance and the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development. He bluntly states: “the stronger e-commerce in a sector, the greater the decline in employment”.

Thus, job losses have been observed in the toy, footwear and clothing sectors, while job creations have been dynamic in the food trade with little competition from this distribution channel.explains the report. Online sales have a more positive impact, on the other hand, on hiring in logistics and transport, says this report.

Amazon is contesting the job-breaking charges. A report produced by the research firm Oliver Wyman, commissioned by the multinational, qualifies the responsibility of the e-commerce giant. “Buying products online is as labor intensive as shopping offline”he assures, with regard to the market in several European countries. As for the impact on the development of physical shops, the variations “seem above all influenced by the local demographic and economic dynamism (population, level of wealth, importance of tourism) which makes the attractiveness of cities”he argues.

“And then, what types of jobs?»

“We were initially out of 100 promised jobs in the Briec warehouse. Today, we are already talking about only 80 jobs…”, notes Catherine Malbranque. 80 is nothing. It’s always taken that of course, but we could do otherwise. And then, for what types of jobs? We know that Amazon is struggling to recruit. And that a CDI in the warehouse is not tenable for long…”

In logistics warehouses, it is the reign of temporary workers and short contracts. A few permanent contracts are on the way, but few people stay there. There remains the delivery aspect. This is the other promise of Amazon’s establishment in Briec: the hiring of 250 delivery drivers.

They are self-employed. “For each Amazon delivery agency, it’s about 200-250 Uberized delivery people. They live below the poverty level, and receive barely more than the RSA”Pointe Etienne Coubard. Amazon has built 27 delivery agencies in France since 2017. Nearly “6,750 additional poor workers who cannot finish the month that the multinationals are sowing all over France”castigates the head of the NGO.

2020, year of social plans in the face of competition from e-commerce

One “worrying new fact” is advanced by the latest Friends of the Earth study. Large brands, not just SMEs, are beginning to be affected by the decline in employment. And this, after having taken the turn of digitalization. Again, this is a ” slow death »as described by Etienne Coubard.

In summary: a large company is recruiting to ensure its digital shift as well as the implementation of its delivery service. To face the stiff competition of the giants of the e-commerce like Amazon, logics of profitability is essential very quickly. We then reduce the payroll… In 2019, “the balance of jobs created for large companies has been divided by 9 compared to previous years and is approaching a negative balance”, thus write the Friends of the Earth.

Above all, the pandemic has been there. “Covid has been an opportunity for large companies to apply social plans, which were designed as early as 2019. This is the case for Conforama, Camaïeu, Comptoir des Cotonniers… » Etienne Coubard list.

14 Amazon projects under construction or prospecting

The intensification of e-commerce under the Macron five-year term therefore peaked in 2020-2021. On the one hand, the profits of giants like Amazon have been record high, with the lockdowns. On the other hand, historic brands have multiplied layoffs. The balance sheet “risks being quite catastrophic: we are talking about social plans with 2,000 jobs lost…” insists Etienne Coubard.

But for now, the latest available statistics stop at 2019. The assessment of the impact of e-commerce giants on employment in 2020 and 2021 can only be drawn up at the end of 2022-beginning of 2023, predicts the manager. long. Case to follow.

Until then, 14 Amazon warehouse projects are being studied: in Sarthe, Lyon, Calais, Perpignan, Montpellier… Even where projects are coming to an end, citizen groups remain vigilant. “The small warehouse in Briec will only work if, within a radius of 200 kilometers, there is a large warehouse. So where do they plan to make one? »asks Catherine Malbranque.

Collectives and NGOs hope that the next five-year term will pave the way for better regulation. Today, e-commerce is considered logistics, not commerce. This is why they are not subject to the same rules. We want to put an end to this unequal treatment, which has such an impact on employment and the environment.” defends Etienne Coubard. “This would reduce the bleeding, and give some breathing space to small and medium-sized businesses.”

Photo credits: Stop Amazon Briec collective

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