AMAZON’S country director of Spain and Italy has defended online sales of ‘non-essential items’ following complaints the activity damages small businesses and puts workers at risk.

Mariangela Marseglia said ‘Amazon and online commerce are a lifeline for many consumers in confinement’, and said it was legitimate to address their needs.

“Isn’t it essential for a mother who cannot leave the house to get a toy for her child?” she told El Pais.

It comes as an estimated 1.2 million workers in shop-owning SMEs have been forced to shut down under state of alarm measures. To put that in perspective, Amazon in Spain employs just 879 people, though an extra 1,500 are planned to be drafted in.

Complaints are also bolstered by an unprecedented court ruling in France that threatened to whack the American multinational with a €1 million fine for every non-essential item it distributed anywhere in the country.

A staunch appeal failed to overturn the Court of Versailles ruling in April, though the fine was reduced from €1 million to €100,000.

Amazon France shut its six warehouses in protest of the ruling, and are expected to remain closed until May 13.

The ruling came from complaints the distribution giant hadn’t done enough to protect workplace safety, and followed a series of strikes and protests in March.

Amazon Spain likewise faced a backlash after news emerged that eight workers had tested positive to coronavirus, and 80 were in confinement.

Spanish union CCOO made three formal complaints against the company in March. A resulting inspection said hygiene and safety measures were ‘inadequate’ and ordered immediate improvements.

“To alleviate their loss of personnel, and the 30% increase in volume of orders that the company has accumulated after the closure of traditional commerce, the multinational is hiring temporary personnel, putting more people at risk,” the union said in a statement.

Following the inspection, however, there has been no further formal investigation into Amazon Spain.

The company insists it has paid 100% of the salaries of workers on sick leave, while those working between mid-March to the end of April have been paid an extra €2 an hour.

Country director Marseglia added her team was doing ‘everything possible’ to detect and remove vendors on Amazon taking advantage of the situation by hiking up prices of essential products.

“We have zero tolerance for these practices, especially with goods like masks or things that people need to keep healthy,” she said. She added around 6,000 sellers have been banned and up to half a million products flagged up for unjustified price hikes.

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