What does cheap work mean

How long will the anger on Amazon last? A day? Two days? Maybe three? A television report about the miserable working conditions in the online retailer's German logistics centers sparked real anger. But the excitement will probably subside very quickly if customers will order the bestseller from Amazon tomorrow or the laptop at a bargain price.

People tend to make themselves comfortable, even when shopping. Do not think too much, look at the price, press the order button - done. Most customers do not care where the goods come from, under what conditions they are manufactured, packaged and delivered. What counts is your own benefit. And in the world of greed is awesome, that is defined by the price: as cheap as possible.

Manpower is quickly becoming a throwaway item

The Cologne Institute for Retail Research aptly titled a recently published study with the sentence "Customers have decided: Amazon is Germany's top online shop in 2013". Amazon, that's us. Just like we are Lidl, Zara, Kik and all the other retailers who offer goods at low prices. We want it that way, otherwise these companies would not have a chance in the market. Anyone who buys a T-shirt for 3.95 euros must know that it couldn't have been made under decent conditions. And where products become junk goods, human labor quickly becomes a throwaway item.

For the seamstresses from Bangladesh, Indonesia or other emerging countries, this means that their wages are not enough for everyday life. Child labor, inhumane conditions in the factories, forced overtime, harassment, damage to health and environmental pollution - all of this is the price others pay for us. Not only for cheap goods, by the way. Working conditions are also often poor in suppliers who manufacture for premium brands such as Adidas or Nike. The technology group Apple recently came under fire because of the working conditions at its suppliers in China and also because of the poor environmental standards of its computers. Sometimes it is the competitive pressure, sometimes the return that drives companies to cheaper foreign countries.

There are reports of this kind over and over again without the customers noticeably reacting. No sign of a buyer's strike. But consumer power is part of good competition. You can improve something by doing without. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Fortunately, this worked well for the food discounter Lidl. When he was scolded for his rude tone and had to take severe criticism for spying on employees, politicians, trade unionists and consumers pilloried him. The company pulled the emergency brake, raised wages, examined the management structure and better informed the public. Today the image of the discounter is better than ever.

There is no political pressure

Will this also be the case with Amazon? Probably not. Because if you shop at Lidl, you can talk to the people there, feel their frustration or the joy of work. But e-commerce is an anonymous thing. The employees are far away, packing the goods on the flat land.

There is also a lack of political pressure. Because the mayors in the mostly economically weak regions are happy when someone like Amazon creates jobs in the logistics centers. Better badly paid jobs than none at all. And it is legal that Amazon can employ unemployed people on a trial basis for a few weeks at peak times, such as during the Christmas business, without paying them. In official German, this is a company training measure. The state continues to pay unemployment benefits. Everything is regulated in the Social Security Code (SGB III). Politics has made other bad habits acceptable. This includes temporary work, which has been expanded by the red-green federal government. Amazon uses this extensively, as well as the use of temporary workers, which the company can terminate at relatively short notice - regulated in the BGB.

If, however, workers from Spain or Poland work for almost two weeks without rest days, this violates the German Working Hours Act. The workers don't fight back because they need the money and don't know the German laws. Then it is important that the permanent employees at Amazon claim the rights. They did that this week at the Amazon logistics center in Graben near Augsburg - and elected a works council for the first time.