The PA news agency sent its City reporter, Henry Saker-Clark, to Amazon’s Peterborough warehouse on one of the company’s public tours. This is what he saw:
Amazon has faced years of criticism for seemingly putting profits over pay, despite being run by one of the richest men in the world.
So the last thing I expected to see on a public tour of the company’s Peterborough warehouse was a giant Monopoly board, complete with microwave-sized dice.
Martin, our tour guide, explains that each day a staff member gets a roll and can win prizes such as getting their boss to cover their shift for an hour. No word on what happens if you land on “Go to Jail”.
Amazon has several robotics centres across the UK – which the company is incredibly keen to show off to the media.
Therefore, PA decided to send me to Peterborough, where its technology is more traditional and hardly dazzling.
“219 days since the last incident” is scrawled in marker pen on paper stapled on the wall as we walk into the building. Hi-tech it was not.
Inside, the pioneering tech business relies on endless rows of metal shelving stacked with an array seemingly unrelated items. I spotted toasters, discounted copies of Ant Middleton’s autobiography and cushions, all piled next to one another.
Our guide, stood in an orange hi-vis jacket and heavy black boots, explains that there is no need for a pattern, as pimped-up bar scanners take pickers to a specific shelf where they can find the required item, as he points to a pink floral cushion.
The picker then scans the item before taking it to the packing area to get boxed up and shipped out.
But who turns up for a tour, you may wonder?
“We saw the advert on Monday and thought why not? It’s just up the road so just wanted to come look around,” said a retiree, Linda from St Ives, Cambridgeshire, as she and her husband attempted to compute the coffee machines in the canteen.
The pair are among a dozen pensioners – and me – wearing hi-vis jackets as we eagerly prepare to enter the retail behemoth’s warehouse.
“I’ve been here seven years and it’s a cut above any picking job I had before,” Martin, our enthusiastic guide for the day says as he leads the group into the cavernous warehouse, which is the equivalent size of seven football pitches.
We walk further into the vast area as pickers with the handheld machines guiding them to ordered products shuffle past to find their next item.
Heading past a free vending machine, I hope to find a bar of Dairy Milk. Instead, I find plastic wrapped gloves staring back at me.
“I think you were all expecting something more exciting,” says Martin. “It’s vital we have access to fresh safety gear near every work-station.”
Through the tour he repeats the safety protocols in place as though an Alexa was listening into his conversations.
The warehouse is peculiarly quiet, sound-tracked by the distant rattle of plastic trolleys and the monotonous buzz of conveyor belts moving overhead. “It’s weirdly quiet today – you should see it here at Christmas.” Tempting.
We walk past the packing stations while workers rapidly press machines onto cardboard, shooting out logo-emblazoned tape.
And finally, it would not be a corporate tour without our guide explaining the charitable causes which Amazon had supported over the past 12 months.
After a whirlwind 75 minutes, we are led out, heading past doors which appear to lead to management offices but we are not allowed down there.
To be honest, the last hour being guided around the warehouse was more than enough.
Perhaps a trip around a robotic centre would have left me feeling more of a buzz, but looking back at the never-ending grey facade of the warehouse, I wasn’t surprised by the miserable reputation it has gained as a workplace.