Retail news from around the globe

Amazon’s Detroit workers stage protest

A group of Amazon workers has staged a demonstration at one of its warehouses near Detroit in protest of how the company is managing the coronavirus outbreak.

The employees are concerned about notifications of new cases of the disease and fear coming to work. They are also concerned about crowded conditions, the availability of cleaning supplies and a pace of work that leaves insufficient time for sanitation, the Verge website reports.

Amazon said fewer than 15 of more than 4000 employees at its Romulus, Michigan, fulfillment centre participated, but one of the action’s organisers said 40 people joined in, Reuters reports.

Either way, the news reflects the serious operational risks facing the world’s largest online retailer if more workers contract COVID-19, or if their peers refuse to enter its warehouses.

The protest follows earlier disruptions at facilities in the Staten Island in New York, Florence in Italy and Chicago.

De Blasio to investigate Amazon firing

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the city’s human rights commission to open an investigation into the dismissal of a worker at an Amazon warehouse who participated in a walkout.

Amazon has denied wrongdoing in the matter, saying it fired the worker because he broke quarantine and put the safety of others at risk, Reuters reports.

Christopher Smalls, an assistant manager and organiser who has been with the company for five years, was terminated as dozens of workers protested against the company’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the Guardian, strikers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island demanded Amazon temporarily shut down the large facility for cleaning after reports of multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The workers also demanded more protective gear and hazard pay as they work through the pandemic.

Smalls says he believes he was put on quarantine leave to silence him not because of any true risk, a charge Amazon denies, the Guardian reports.

Singapore retailers seek rent relief

In Singapore, there are calls for rental relief for businesses suffering from the sharp sales downturns caused by the pandemic.

In an open letter to landlords, the Singapore Retailers Association, has urged them to implement a rental payment structure for six months capped at no more than 15 per cent gross turnover or a 50 per cent base rent reduction, whichever is lower.

It also asks landlords to allow retail businesses that cannot sustain their businesses to leave before their lease expiration without losing security deposits or risking punitive legal action.

Kroger sales surge on panic buying

US supermarket giant Kroger has seen its comparable sales surge about 30 per cent in March as consumers stockpiled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company’s shares, which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, have risen some 5 per cent over the period.

Kroger, however, was conservative about its expectations, saying that it was too early to know what the “new normal” in food consumption was going to be, Reuters reports.

Bucking both national and international trends, however, Kroger said it also raised wages for hourly staff by US$2 an hour until April 18. The average hourly wage for Kroger employees is US$15 per hour.

Kroger, among the largest US corporations, was founded in 1883 and operates more than 2700 supermarkets across the country, as well as some 250 jewellery stores. It is based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Adidas agrees to pay its rent

German sports brand Adidas has backed down from its threat to stop paying rent for stores around the world that have been forced to close by coronavirus lockdowns.

Following a storm of criticism on social media and from the German government, the company said it would pay up for April although it was still clearly unsatisfied with the situation.

“Almost all over the world there is no normal business anymore. The shops are closed. Even a healthy company like Adidas cannot stand this for long,” the company said in a letter addressed to media outlets.

Adidas, which made a net profit of nearly €2 billion ($3.6 billion) in 2019, has been hard hit by a slump in Chinese sales and store closures around the world.

According to German website the Local, the German government has put in place protections for companies that cannot pay their rent at this time. However, it was not meant to shield large, financially sound firms and there is widespread anger at those trying to take advantage of these measures.

Macy’s bumped from main S&P index

Iconic US department store chain Macy’s, which was struggling already before the coronavirus panic cut foot traffic to almost nil, has been removed from the benchmark S&P 500 stock index

The company’s shares have plunged more than 70 per cent so far this year, leaving it with a market value of US$1.52 billion as of Tuesday’s close, Reuters reports.

“Macy’s has a market capitalisation more representative of the small-cap market space,” S&P said, adding that the company would become part of the S&P small-cap 600 index, effective April 6.

Macy’s was founded in 1858, and has been a major part of the US retail landscape ever since.

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