New report reveals how AI and robotics are changing the experiences and conditions of Amazon warehouse workers

Posted on 05.06.2024
Fairwork Amazon Report 2024

A new report, published today by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, in collaboration with the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) on AI in the warehouse sector reveals worker dissatisfaction with pay, conditions and contracts.

This report offers new insights into the human impact of the race for the ever-faster delivery of consumer goods that is driving automation within and across Amazon UK’s vastly complex supply chain. Drawing on qualitative research, and utilising the Fairwork AI Principles as a framework, the report sheds light on the experiences of Amazon workers in the context of AI and robotics deployment and integration in the workplace. Although the stated objective of the use of these technologies within the fulfilment process at Amazon is to improve operational efficiency and create a better work environment, this research shows that instead, workers are experiencing work intensification, loss of control in the work process and mental and physical risks. 

The report’s lead author, Dr Funda Ustek Spilda said: “Rather than only analysing specific AI technologies being deployed, we should look at the overall infrastructural system that is changing through AI. Workers’ experiences show that without asking the necessary questions when introducing these technologies into workplaces, workers might end up suffering from important harms.” 

Key Findings

Workers told researchers they were not feeling the financial benefits of automation and with inadequate pay and unsatisfactory working conditions.  

  • Fair Pay – The productivity gains associated with automation are not being redistributed to Amazon warehouse workers. Associates (as Amazon UK refers to them) emphasised remuneration does not reflect the effort and strain that they feel the job requires and is inadequate relative to living costs. Many regularly have to work 60+ hour weeks or moonlight in second jobs to be able to make ends meet. 
  • Fair Conditions – Pace-based demands have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of Amazon associates. Interviewees described feeling “demoralised”, “hopeless” and “very, very stressed”. At robotic sites, mental health risks were also raised because of the isolation experienced when working at fixed workstations, described as “a kind of cage”. 
  • Fair Contracts – Fixed-term associates appear to be under more pressure to work fast and hit performance targets, but the pace of work established by those striving for permanent status had the effect of raising the overall expected pace of work on the warehouse floor. Some workers fear automation-driven job losses in the longer term due to the integration of robotics. 
  • Fair Management – The refined system of algorithmic management and worker surveillance used on warehouse floors leaves workers with very little latitude for decision-making.
  • Fair Representation – Although issues related to fair representation predate the deployment of AI and robotics in Amazon warehouses, these technologies have left workers feeling more isolated; making collective voice important. On 26 April 2024, during the writing of this report, GMB union announced that they have filed legal proceedings against Amazon in response to its anti-union drive. 

For more information or to organize an interview with the report authors, please contact the Fairwork Communications Manager, Zoe Johnson, at 

About the research 

The report was funded by the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). The findings are based on desk research and interviews with workers and Amazon managers in the UK, as well as conversations with union organisers, between December 2022 and April 2024, with the majority of the fieldwork and site visits taking place between April 2023 and April 2024. 

About Fairwork 

Fairwork is an action-research project coordinated by the Oxford Internet Institute and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Through a global network of researchers, Fairwork evaluates the working conditions on digital platforms and ranks them based on five principles of fair work. The five Principles of Fairwork were developed through an extensive literature review of published research on job quality, stakeholder meetings in Geneva (involving platform operators, policymakers, trade unions, and academics), and in-country meetings with local stakeholders. Globally, Fairwork collaborates closely with workers, platforms, advocates, and policymakers to envision and build a fairer future of work. See here for a list of collaborating institutions. 

About GPAI 

The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) is a multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities. GPAI brings together over 30 countries and 120 world-renowned experts from science, industry, civil society, international organisations and academia to foster international cooperation on Responsible AI. Learn more about GPAI on their website.