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French court rejects Amazon's appeal over ruling to limit deliveries during Covid-19 crisis

An employee prepares an order for Amazon at Porona warehouse in Bruay-sur-l'Escaut, near Valenciennes, France, April 22, 2020.
An employee prepares an order for Amazon at Porona warehouse in Bruay-sur-l'Escaut, near Valenciennes, France, April 22, 2020. © Pascal Rossignol, REUTERS

A French court rejected US online retailer Amazon's appeal against a ruling that limits what it can deliver during the coronavirus crisis.

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Amazon must restrict deliveries in France to IT products, health items, food and pet food, the Court of Appeal in Versailles said, adding that for every delivery not meeting this requirement, Amazon would face a €100,000 ($108,020) penalty.

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a surge in online orders from people under lockdown, but also fuelled protests by Amazon workers from the United States to Italy over its sanitary protocols.

In France, these protests spiralled into a legal battle, highlighting how companies may struggle to keep going while protecting their workers, just as firms across Europe need to figure out how to let staff safely return to offices and factories once restrictions are lifted.

The spat has also accentuated losses for some French businesses that were still managing to sell and ship through Amazon, in spite of a furore over whether some goods are really essential.

Some 10,000 third-party French vendors sell though Amazon's site and many use its logistics too. The French government, facing an 8 percent economic downturn this year, has encouraged businesses to operate when possible.

Unions handed a victory

A French court handed unions a first victory last week after it told Amazon to restrict shipments to only food, hygiene and medical products while it improved its health measures. This followed complaints the warehouses were too crowded and still processing everything from sex toys to video games.

Amazon – which had already said it would prioritise some products during the outbreak, though not to such an extreme – shut its warehouses, arguing the ruling was too vague and it could not risk a fine.

With most retailers closed in France, e-commerce has become a lifeline for many small firms.

Victor Mazoyer, a butcher in France's southeastern Drôme region, said customers deserted his store when the lockdown started. But his sales via Amazon jumped.

"We used to have some five orders a week online ... and we've gone up to 50 parcels of meat," said Mayozer.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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