A THOUSAND people in the North-East will soon be working in Amazon’s new fulfilment centre, but fresh concerns over worker rights have arisen following an investigation by BBC Panorama.

This is not the first time Amazon has come under fire for working conditions, but fears are renewed ahead of the new fulfilment centre, which is set to employ 1,000 people in Darlington.

According to the Amazon: What They Know About Us investigation, workers in fulfilment centres are given computer-generated targets which are not disclosed until after the shift, creating pressured environments.

An anonymous employee told the show: “They want us to be robots and work fast, not have toilet or water breaks... but we’re human.”

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “Fulfilment centres run at the same pace all year around, no matter if it’s Black Friday, Christmas or a random day in February. The way we increase orders is through increasing the number of staff, not speeding the processes. People can’t work at different speeds, and robots have a set speed. Each process must run smoothly because everything is interconnected.

“Our people are treated with respect. They get good pay, benefits like private healthcare, a modern working environment, and importantly a safe one. There are critics out there that want to paint a bad picture but that’s not the case.”

Amazon said employees do not have individual targets but rather the building does, which are based on long-term monitoring and then trickle down to objective personal targets.

“People won’t have a conversation about targets if they are meeting them,” a spokesperson said.

When pressed on when exactly employees are told about targets, Amazon reiterated that they are not - until they fall behind their peers, to which “a manager will manage”. Performance is not measured on a daily or weekly basis, instead over a long period of time, recognising that people have bad days and “there is no algorithm for relationships”.

The company was unable to provide a time frame or example of a centre’s output target.

The spokesperson added: “As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce.

“Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations. We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve.”

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said concerns about Amazon are “unfounded” and urged the town to be “open for business”.

He said: “There are over 2,000 unemployed people in our town, and it is important that we welcome every new employer.

“It doesn’t do us a great deal of service looking like we don’t want Amazon. We do not get to pick and choose what businesses come here. Amazon, like any other business, must comply with the law.”

Amazon previously committed to no zero-hour contracts in Darlington and to pay above minimum wage, which its hourly rate of £9.50 is.

The spokesperson welcomed warehouse tours, and said: “One of the things we get the most is ‘we expected it to be a bit more chaotic’. It is just a warehouse, nothing more than that.”

The investigation also looked at Amazon’s rise and market dominance, its data collection and privacy concerns surrounding Alexa.

A Darlington Council spokeswoman said: “We welcome Amazon to Darlington and the opportunity of a significant number of long-term jobs coming to the town. We are already working closely with Amazon representatives as to how we can help them to fill those roles.

"Amazon have given a clear commitment to providing well paid, secure jobs at the site. This is positive news for Darlington and the wider Tees Valley.”