Unite raises Amazon's pandemic profiteering with the Competition and Markets Authority
- Tuesday 13 July 2021
Unite, Britain's leading union, has submitted the first formal complaint to the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) against Amazon for abuse of its market position in relation to price gouging at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic (a copy of the formal complaint is available on request).
Vulnerable and older people who had to stay at home and those who relied on home deliveries would have been particularly exposed to inflated prices for essential items on the Amazon website. Unite is calling for Amazon to repay the overcharges.
For example, Carex antibacterial hand lotion usually costs around £1. In March 2020 the price on Amazon increased to £26.41. The price of a Braun Thermoscan 7 digital thermometer shot up over £100 – going from £39.99 to £149.99.
Competition lawyers Preiskel & Co LLP have submitted a formal complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority on behalf of the union.
As part of the Action on Amazon campaign, Unite research has uncovered compelling evidence of price gouging throughout 2020. 50 different items have been identified that were being sold on the Amazon site for at least double their usual price from March 2020 to November 2020 onwards. They include soap, antibacterial spray and wipes, washing up liquid, hand wash, bleach, thermometers, face masks, toilet paper, disposable gloves, sanitary products, vitamins, toothpaste, sudocream, tea and tinned food.
Unite’s formal complaint is an opportunity for the CMA to show it has teeth after its former chairman Lord Tyrie claimed earlier this month the CMA needed an urgent reboot. He cited the need for change particularly in relation to outdated protections for consumers from the growth in market power caused by the digital revolution.
Sharon Graham, Unite executive officer for Organising and Leverage said: “Amazon is steeped in corporate irresponsibility, from its anti-union tactics to tax avoidance and the destruction of millions of items of unsold stock. Now Amazon stands accused of profiting from price gouging on its website at the height of the pandemic when vulnerable people were most at need.
"Unite represents Amazon workers but also thousands more pensioners and workers who had to shield during the pandemic. Some of our members died after exposure to Covid 19 while acting as key workers. It’s high time Amazon is held to account for profiteering during the pandemic. We hope our complaint to the CMA leads to a full investigation of Amazon’s practices."
Tim Cowen, chair of the antitrust practice at Preiskel & Co LLP, said: "We see the case as raising issues of unparalleled public concern and significance. We, and Unite, are committed to a full public debate, and, if necessary, further action through the courts."
Contact: Ciaran Naidoo on 07768 931 315
Notes to editors:
- It appears that the pandemic may have acted as an accelerator – increasing consumers’ willingness to shop online rather than in physical stores. Amazon is the major winner from the pandemic, with its UK turnover increasing by 51 per cent during 2020, with many more people increasingly becoming dependent on it.
- Amazon formally claims that price gouging has no place on its marketplace. Unite points out that it still happens - and Amazon is making a lot of money out of the price rises. With Amazon knowing what customers bought, who overpaid, and where they live. Unite is calling for Amazon to repay the overcharges.
- Unite understands that Amazon knows a lot about its customers and promotes products to them based on what they like, what they have bought in the past and what they might be interested in next. Amazon can’t outsource responsibility or blame its suppliers.
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.