Unite has submitted the first formal complaint to the CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) against Amazon for abuse of its market position in relation to price gouging at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic.
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 He cited the need for change particularly in relation to outdated protections for consumers from the growth in market power caused by the digital revolution.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,” she added. “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.”
By Ciaran Naidoo