Working practices in the supply chain have been thrust into the limelight by the BBC’s investigative series Panorama.

Earlier this week the programme aired an edition highlighting long shifts and tough picking targets at a DC run by internet retailer Amazon.

The programme, aired on 25 November and based on secret filming of night shifts at the retailer’s 800,000ft² DC in Swansea, highlighted 10.5 hour shifts in which the BBC’s undercover worker walked almost 11 miles carrying out manual order picking with a target rate of one item every 33 seconds.

Despite being a physically fit 23 year old with previous warehouse experience, Panorama’s reporter was exhausted by the pace of work at the DC, where pickers are driven by instructions from handheld terminals that provide a timer countdown and beep loudly at them if they fail to complete a pick on time.

The programme included comments by leading stress at work expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot of University College London suggesting that working conditions at the warehouse were “all the bad stuff at once”; and a suggestion from barrister Giles Bedloe that such long shifts might even breach working time rules, which limit night workers involved in heavy physical or mental strain to eight hours’ work in any 24-hour period.

GMB union general secretary Paul Kenny, meanwhile, was also quoted in the programme saying that the level of pressure on people at the site was “just incredible” and that he had “never seen anything like it”.

A statement on Amazon’s website strongly refuted the suggestion that it exploited its employees in any way and said their safety was its “number one priority”.

It stressed Amazon’s adherence to all regulations and employment law and said targets for productivity at the site were set objectively and based on previous performance levels.


Neil Ashworth, chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and CEO of parcels firm Collect+, told MT it would be “very unusual” to find logistics firms routinely running such long night shifts, with standard eight-hour night shifts more common.

He added that since the working time stipulation of eight hours in every 24 was calculated as an average over periods of 17 weeks, longer shift lengths might be seen on occasion.

“Experience would indicate that employers act responsibly in the overwhelming majority of cases,” he added.

United Kingdom Warehousing Association chief executive Roger Williams, meanwhile, told MT: “All warehouses have spikes in activity and at such times, workers will be expected to work harder to meet productivity targets.

“The logistics industry has an enviable industrial relations record… I am not sure that Panorama raised any issues to which the broader industry needs to respond,” added Williams.