Amazon delivery companies around the U.S. are instructing workers to bypass daily inspections intended to make sure vans are safe to drive.
Amazon requires contracted delivery drivers to inspect their vehicles at the beginning and end of their shift as a safety precaution. But some drivers say they’re pressured to ignore damage and complete the inspections as quickly as possible, so that delivery companies can avoid taking vans off the road. If delivery companies take a van off the road, they risk forfeiting valuable package routes and drivers may lose a shift.
These inconsistent inspection practices undermine the company’s public messaging around worker safety. They also highlight the tension that delivery partners face between ensuring drivers’ safety and keeping up with Amazon’s aggressive delivery quotas, which can stretch into hundreds of packages per day per driver.
CNBC spoke to 10 current and former Amazon delivery drivers in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Texas who discovered their vans had issues ranging from jammed doors and tires with little to no tread to busted backup cameras and broken mirrors. They say managers told them to ignore these problems and complete their deliveries as usual. Some of these drivers asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from their employers or Amazon.
“They’d tell us, just make sure everything’s great and go,” said Chastity Cook, who quit working for an Amazon delivery company in Illinois earlier this year. “We just checked down the list. We don’t even stop to read it and make sure everything is there.”
Cook’s former employer, Courier Express One, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Amazon told CNBC in a statement that the company regularly audits delivery companies’ compliance with safety policies, including two vehicle safety checks every day. Amazon takes vehicles out of operation until safety issues are addressed, the company said.
“When safety protocol is broken, we take various actions including ending our relationship with a DSP [delivery service partner] if warranted,” the company said. “We’re actively investigating the experiences in this story and don’t believe they are representative of the more than 150,000 drivers that safely deliver packages every day.”
Amazon’s DSP program, launched in 2018, plays a critical role in the company’s vast fulfillment and logistics operations. The DSP network is made up of at least 2,000 contracted delivery firms and 115,000 drivers in the U.S., often distinguishable by blue Amazon-branded vans, that handle the last mile to shoppers’ doorsteps.
Because the DSP network is run by partners, drivers and managers operate at arm’s length from the retail giant. The working environment and management quality varies greatly between DSPs, drivers say.
Amazon has previously said it informs drivers of best safety practices and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms across the DSP network. Before stepping down as CEO, Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos pledged to make safety and employee satisfaction a greater focus at the company.
The company has increasingly relied on software and in-vehicle technology to monitor driver safety. Amazon in February rolled out AI-enabled cameras in its delivery vans that are designed to detect safety infractions and, for years, it has used an app called Mentor to track drivers’ driving behavior. Drivers and DSPs are scored by Amazon, in part, on their adherence to safety measures, which can determine their eligibility to receive bonuses.
Delivery companies have discovered workarounds to some of these tools. Vice reported in May that some DSPs were encouraging drivers to turn off Mentor while on their route to make sure they continue to hit Amazon’s delivery targets.
Additionally, Amazon continues to face broad scrutiny around the safety and treatment of its warehouse and delivery workforce. Under the pressure of getting packages to Amazon’s 200 million-plus Prime members, drivers are increasingly speaking out about working conditions, including claims that workers routinely urinate in bottles and are pushed into dangerous situations while on the road.
How the inspections work
CNBC obtained a screen recording of the inspection process, referred to as a Driver Vehicle Inspection Checklist, showing a step-by-step breakdown of how it works.
Drivers open the Flex app and scan a barcode on their vehicle that pairs it to the app. After that, a window appears in the app, instructing drivers to start the inspection.
Drivers check their vehicle’s front side, passenger side, back side, driver side and cab. Within each category are several subsections that require further inspection, such as the van’s lights, tires, mirrors, steering, cameras and brakes.
If a driver marks issues with the van, the Flex app will immediately prompt them to contact their manager. The app also won’t show drivers their package delivery route. Once the van is repaired, whichever driver is first assigned to the vehicle must verify in the Flex app that any issues were fixed.
Otherwise, a screen at the end of the checklist will say “you didn’t report any issues with the vehicle.” Drivers are required to check a box which states, “I hereby certify that my vehicle inspection report is true and accurate.”
Damaged seat belts, broken backup cameras
In its DSP safety manuals and instructional materials, Amazon encourages drivers not to drive dangerous vehicles. An inspection guide distributed to drivers and viewed by CNBC states, in bold and red font, “Do not operate any unsafe vehicle out on route.”
A separate, 11-page safety manual for DSPs states that, “Drivers must report all vehicle deficiencies, including malfunctions and defects, immediately.” The document, which is undated, also says that pre- and post-trip inspections are necessary to “ensure your assigned vehicle is road ready and doesn’t pose any hazards that prevent the safe operation of the vehicle.”
But drivers say there are persistent safety hazards in their vehicles, from jammed doors and broken backup cameras to bald tires and seatbelts that won’t lock, and managers discourage them from reporting these issues on the checklist.
“They told us not to mark things if they were broken because then the van wouldn’t be drivable,” said Cook, the driver from Illinois. “They said to report damages to management.”
One former driver from Austin, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution from their former employer, said a manager told them that if they marked anything wrong with their vehicle, they wouldn’t have a shift that day.
The driver said they noticed numerous safety hazards while working for their DSP. Several vans had broken backup alarms, which alert pedestrians and other vehicles when the van is reversing. Check engine lights and other sensors were often flashing on the vans — enough that drivers joked it looked like Christmas lights, the driver said.
Andre Kirk, a former Amazon delivery driver in Indiana, recalled when he was inspecting his van and noticed the check engine light was on. Kirk thought it meant it was supposed to be taken out of service, but he was forced to drive it anyway.
Concerned for his safety, Kirk drove the van to a nearby Jiffy Lube. The repairman told Kirk he couldn’t work on the Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans used by some DSPs, so Kirk decided to get back on the road and complete his shift as safely as possible.
Kirk said he was confused why his DSP wouldn’t let employees report issues like he experienced during vehicle inspections.
“I felt like something wasn’t right. Why not report this?” said Kirk, who was fired from his DSP in May, in an interview. “If this is not supposed to be in service, why am I still driving it?”
Kirk’s former employer, FAE Distributors, couldn’t be reached for comment.
‘There goes your route’
After drivers flag an issue during inspections, Amazon requires DSP companies to “ground” the vehicle, or take it out of operation for repairs.
Drivers say that managers avoid grounding vehicles because they don’t want to give up delivery routes. For example, if a DSP is forced to ground three vans for repairs, they may not have enough spare vans in their fleet to handle all the delivery routes Amazon assigned them that day.
Forfeiting a delivery route can cost a DSP.
Amazon pays contracted delivery companies for every package delivered each week and for every delivery route they pick up, according to drivers and a former DSP owner, who asked to remain anonymous because they are still in the logistics business.
The former DSP owner said they tried to get vehicle issues repaired as quickly as possible, but they would tell drivers not to mark issues in the Flex app in order to avoid grounding any vans and “dropping routes.”
Dropping a route not only hurts DSPs financially, but it can also affect the score assigned to them by Amazon. Amazon ranks delivery partners on a scale of “Poor” to “Fantastic+,” factoring in things like delivery performance. If a DSP’s ranking falls, it may lose out on bonus payments or receive worse routes in the future.
“The side door could be broken, front door could be broken and you’re not supposed to report it because they’ll ground the vehicle,” said one driver from Indiana. “And then there goes your route.”
Amazon workers plan to walk out over ‘lack of trust’ in leadership
Amazon employees plan to walk off the job Wednesday in protest of the company’s recent return-to-office mandate, layoffs and its environmental record.
Approximately 1,900 employees worldwide are expected to walk out at 3 p.m. ET, with about 900 of those workers gathering outside the Spheres, the massive glass domes that anchor Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, according to employee groups behind the effort. The walkout is being organized in part by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an influential worker organization that has repeatedly pressed the e-retailer on its climate stance.
The group said employees are walking out to highlight a “lack of trust in company leadership’s decision making.” Amazon recently initiated the largest layoffs in its 29-year history, cutting 27,000 jobs across its cloud computing, advertising and retail divisions, among several others, since last fall. On May 1, the company ordered corporate employees to start working from the office at least three days a week, largely bringing an end to the remote work arrangements some employees had settled into during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon employees are walking off the job at a precarious time inside the company. Amazon just wrapped up its employee cuts, and it continues to reckon with the rough economy and slowing retail sales, leaving staffers on the edge that further layoffs could still be in store.
Employees had urged Amazon leadership to drop the return-to-office mandate and crafted a petition, addressed to CEO Andy Jassy and the S-team. Staffers said the policy “runs contrary” to Amazon’s positions on diversity and inclusion, affordable housing, sustainability, and focus on being the “Earth’s Best Employer.”
The backlash to the return-to-office mandate spilled over into an internal Slack channel, and employees created a group called Remote Advocacy to express their concerns.
Amazon employees who moved during the pandemic or were hired for a remote role have expressed concern about how the return-to-office policy will affect them, CNBC previously reported. Amazon’s head count ballooned over the last three years, and it hired more employees outside of its key tech hubs such as Seattle, New York and Northern California as it embraced a more distributed workforce.
The company had previously said it would leave it up to individual managers to decide what working arrangements worked best for their teams.
Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser said in a statement that the company has so far been pleased with the results of its return-to-office push.
“There’s more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices,” Glasser added. “We understand that it’s going to take time to adjust back to being in the office more and there are a lot of teams at the company working hard to make this transition as smooth as possible for employees.”
Amazon says it has 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the Puget Sound region and roughly 350,000 corporate and tech workers worldwide.
Employees are also using the walkout to draw attention to concerns that Amazon isn’t meeting its climate commitments. They pointed to Amazon’s most recent sustainability report, which showed its carbon emissions jumped 40% in 2021 from 2019, the year it unveiled its “Climate Pledge” plan. Staffers also highlighted a report last year by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting that found the company undercounts its carbon footprint by only counting product carbon emissions from the use of Amazon-branded goods, and not those it buys from manufacturers and sells directly to the consumer.
Glasser said Amazon follows guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard in determining its Scope 3 emissions, or emissions generated from a company’s supply chain.
Additionally, Amazon recently eliminated one of its climate goals, called Shipment Zero, wherein the company pledged to make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. Amazon said it would focus on its broader Climate Pledge, which includes a provision to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade later than its original Shipment Zero commitment.
“Our goal is to change Amazon’s cost/benefit analysis on making harmful, unilateral decisions that are having an outsized impact on people of color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable people,” the group said.
Glasser said Amazon continues to “push hard” to be net carbon zero across its business by 2040. The company remains on track to reach 100% renewable energy by 2025, he added.
“While we all would like to get there tomorrow, for companies like ours who consume a lot of power, and have very substantial transportation, packaging, and physical building assets, it’ll take time to accomplish,” Glasser said.
WATCH: Amazon employees protest about sudden return-to-office policy
British digital bank Monzo hits monthly profitability for the first time after spike in lending
A Mastercard debit card from U.K. digital bank Monzo.
Monzo on Wednesday said it hit profitability for the first time this year, in a major milestone for one of the U.K.’s most prominent digital banks.
In its annual report for the year ending February 2023, Monzo reported net operating income of £214.5 million ($266.1 million), almost doubling year-over-year from £114 million.
Losses at the bank nevertheless came in at a substantial £116.3 million — though this was slightly lower than the £119 million net loss Monzo reported in 2022.
Still, the company managed to reach profitability in the first two months of the year.
In its annual report, Chief Financial Officer James Davies said Monzo is “now a business with diverse and stabilising revenue from a large, and growing, personal and business customer base.”
“Profitability was always a choice as we balance continuing to invest in growth with profitability,” Monzo’s CEO, TS Anil, told CNBC in an interview. “We could have chosen to be profitable a few quarters ago.”
Monzo is not the first digital bank to hit profitability. Starling Bank reached that milestone for the first time in 2021. Fellow fintech Allica Bank reached monthly profitability last year.
Monzo’s move into the black was largely thanks to a substantial increase in income from newer revenue lines, such as lending and subscriptions. Paid accounts now total 350,000.
Monzo declined to share a figure on how much of a profit it is making currently. The firm said it is on track to reach full-year profitability by the end of 2024.
Monzo’s strong revenue performance was driven by a bumper year for its lending business. This came against a backdrop of pain for U.K. consumers, who’re grappling with a harsh cost-of-living crisis as inflation soars.
Total lending volume reached £759.7 million, almost tripling year-on-year, while net interest income spiked by 382% to £164.2 million. That was as usage of overdrafts, unsecured personal loans, and the Monzo Flex buy now, pay later service grew sharply.
Yet credit losses also surged dramatically, as the bank set aside a mountain of funds to deal with a sharp climb in anticipated defaults. Credit losses swelled to £101.2 million, a more than sevenfold increase from £14 million in 2022.
It comes as consumers are increasingly turning to unsecured credit, such as credit cards and personal loans, to offset the impact of the rising cost of living. Research from consulting firm PwC indicates U.K. household debt exceeded £2 trillion for the first time in January.
Monzo’s boss disputed that the cost-of-living crisis had contributed to its revenue performance.
“The cost-of-living crisis was painful for everyone, but it really underscored the ways in which the Monzo product is incredibly powerful,” Anil told CNBC.
He added the growing cost of living impacted how people used Monzo products, with usage of its savings pots and budgeting tools rising.
Meanwhile, Monzo said it continues to work with the Financial Conduct Authority regulator over an ongoing inquiry into the company’s alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws.
“We expect it to take time to resolve,” Monzo said. “This could have a negative impact on our financial position, but we won’t know when or what the outcome will be for some time.”
UK ‘not holding us back’
The fintech sector has experienced increasing scrutiny since it grew in prominence after the 2020 Covid outbreak.
Major digital banks, from Revolut to N26, are receiving heightened attention from regulators. Revolut is reportedly set to have its application for a banking license rejected by the Bank of England, according to the Telegraph.
A number of tech bosses have expressed doubts about the U.K.’s bid to become a global tech power on the back of notable setbacks, including Cambridge-based chip design firm Arm’s decision to list in New York rather than London.
Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky earlier this month said his firm had encountered “extreme bureaucracy” in its experience applying for a banking license in the U.K. and said he would never list in the country. Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, meanwhile, left London for San Francisco, citing a “much more accepting” environment for tech founders.
“From our perspective, this is a country where we got licensed, this is our home market; we’ve clearly learned this is where we can build a business of scale,” Monzo’s Anil said. “It’s not holding us back, I don’t think of it like that at all.”
Monzo now has 7.4 million customers in the U.K., making it the seventh-largest bank in the U.K. by client numbers. Total customer deposits now stand at £6 billion.
Elon Musk’s visit underscores China’s importance to global EV market, analysts say
An aerial view of Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory on March 29, 2021 in Shanghai, China.
Xiaolu Chu | Getty Images News | Getty Images
From handshakes with Chinese officials to visits to China’s top ministries, Elon Musk’s visit to Beijing is putting the spotlight on China’s place in the global electric vehicle market.
The Tesla CEO’s visit to China is a “very important one” for him, said Anthony Sassine, senior investment strategist at investment manager Kraneshares.
China accounts for 50% of Tesla’s vehicle sales and 20% of its production capacity, and this visit would “set the story straight, to make sure he was on the same page as the [Chinese Communist Party],” Sassine told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”
During Tesla’s earnings call in April, Musk identified U.S.-China tensions as a risk to the company’s projections for 2023.
Politics and macroeconomics
Sassine said the visit could also be seen as a “political statement” to China, where business leaders like Musk and JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon are “telling politicians on both sides of the Pacific that business needs political stability.”
Politics is not the only reason. Sassine pointed out that the macro environment for EVs in China has been “tough,” and highlighted China’s ending of subsidies on new EV purchases, as well as rising interest rates in the U.S.
In the face of such conditions, companies have slashed prices to boost sales, and this will hurt their profits, he said.
Tesla slashed prices for its EV sales in China last October and January, but subsequently raised prices again in May. Still, the price of Tesla’s cars remains lower than at the start of 2023 due to several rounds of price cuts across the world.
The fact that Tesla was forced to slash prices in the first place shows how important the China market is to the U.S. electric carmaker, said Bill Russo, founder and CEO of strategy and investment advisory firm Automobility.
“It signals how important the China market is to defend and how important it is to your global system, you need the scale of China working for you,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
Russo said Tesla needs the economies of scale that China provides to maintain its cost advantage globally, “but in order to sustain that, you need to make sure that you maintain your relevance here.”
It won’t be easy for Tesla, however. He noted that China the most competitive market for EVs, with Tesla competing with multiple local companies for supremacy. “Tesla is, unlike other places in the world, not the only top dog in this market,” he added.
When asked if Tesla’s strategy of cutting prices is appropriate, Russo said Tesla is “fighting with an older portfolio” — Model 3 was launched three years ago and Model Y two years ago.
As such, it has had to use price to compete against Chinese EV companies that are introducing new models and to counter the aging of its product portfolio.
Russo pointed out that Chinese EV maker BYD sells extended range hybrids. This is “a weapon that Tesla doesn’t have,” he said adding that BYD also outsells Tesla two to one in the pure battery electric business.
As such, Tesla has to rely on pricing to maintain its competitiveness, unlike other places around the world where it doesn’t face such stiff competition.
“The problem is Tesla everywhere else in the world represents ‘premium EV,’ but in order to fight the battle here in China, you’ve got to wage a price war,” he said.
“Generally price wars are won by companies who can outprice you and right now Tesla is not the lowest price competitor in the market.”
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