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April 24, 2020 2:00 PM, EDT

Amazon Sales Curbs in France Stay as Judges Put Safety First

Amazon lockers at the Louvre metro railway station in Paris.Amazon lockers at the Louvre metro railway station in Paris. (Anita Pouchard Serra/Bloomberg News)

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Amazon.com Inc. lost its fight to be able to sell the whole range of its products in France after failing to convince judges it had taken measures to protect workers from the coronavirus.

The online retailer should restrict deliveries from its French warehouses mostly to foodstuffs, health items and computer products, judges at the Versailles appeals court ruled April 24. Amazon was challenging a ruling last week that it sell only essential products. The company temporarily stopped all orders, saying the initial decision was too ambiguous.

The lower court judges “have to be backed when they firmly remind Amazon of its responsibility in preserving the health of its employees in the current sanitary crisis when the COVID-19 is highly contagious,” the appeal judges said.

They added that as long as Amazon’s French unit hasn’t fully evaluated risks and put in place appropriate safety measures, it can’t restart its activities without limiting the number of people on each site.

The U.S. giant’s latest defeat underscores its difficulties in Amazon’s third-biggest market in Europe as the company fends off challenges from unions in other markets. The setback may increase the risk that other regions restrict the retail giant’s deliveries in an attempt to keep a handle on the spread of the virus.

Amazon said in a statement it would assess as soon as possible the consequences of the ruling for its business, staff and customers in France.

Amazon shares rose 0.2% at 10:50 a.m. in New York as the Russell 3000 Diversified Retail Index advanced.

Market Share

Amazon shut operations at distribution centers in France from April 16, filling orders from warehouses in neighboring countries. That move has cut its market share and caused a 28% drop in demand for its products in the first week of the suspension, according to data analytics company Foxintelligence.

As the pandemic took hold in France, unions requested an urgent ruling at a lower court, arguing that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect employees’ health. The company appealed the subsequent order issued last week to sell only essential food, hygiene and health items and to upgrade its health-safety procedures.

The April 24 ruling eases slightly last week’s ban, allowing Amazon to process orders for high-tech, computer and office products. Amazon is also now permitted to sell items for pets.

The Versailles judges criticized Amazon for beginning a concerted risk evaluation at Amazon only in mid-April.

That is “proof if any that, before then, the risks due to the COVID-19 had only been taken into consideration by measures which while they were concrete had been put in place without an overall plan, without a precise method and without truly involving employees,” the appeals court said.

Amazon placed advertisements in French newspapers Les Echos and Le Figaro ahead of the ruling April 24 telling customers they could still order from independent retailers on Amazon.fr.

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