UK's biggest trade union takes aim at Amazon over 'price gouging' allegations

Nothing to see here, says gargantuan online retailer, thrilled as ever to chat with a union

Unite – the UK's largest trade union, with some 1.4 million members – has accused Amazon of inflating prices for items such as hand sanitiser and other health products during the pandemic.

Working with competition lawyers Preiskel & Co LLP, Unite has submitted a formal complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over alleged "abuse of its market position in relation to price gouging at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Unite claims that the price hikes hit vulnerable and older people, who had no choice but to stay at home and minimise their risk of infection. It has called on Amazon to "repay the overcharges."

It claims to have uncovered 50 different items – including soap, antibacterial spray, face masks, and toilet paper – that were sold on Amazon "for at least double their usual price at the height of the pandemic last year."

"For example," said the Union in a statement, "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."

In a statement, Sharon Graham, an executive officer at Unite and one of three people left in the running to replace union leader Len McCluskey as Unite's general secretary, said:

Amazon stands accused of profiting from price gouging on its website at the height of the pandemic when vulnerable people were most at need. We hope our complaint to the CMA leads to a full investigation of Amazon's practices.

For its part, Amazon has sought to play down the matter insisting that it has been working with the CMA about price gouging for over a year.

A spokesperson for the etail giant told us:

There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. We worked with the CMA more than a year ago to stop attempts by some sellers to take advantage of the global health crisis. Our action at the time was clear and decisive – we removed the offers referenced in this complaint and terminated seller accounts. We continue to monitor our store 24/7 to remove offers that violate our policies.

A spokesperson for the UK's competition watchdog confirmed that the trade union had been in contact with the CMA.

A spokesperson said: "We have received the letter from Unite The Union and will be considering it carefully." ®

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