Popular internet companies have a tendency to devote relatively little attention to their warehouse workers, lavishing the most attention on their software engineers. It’s their code that makes it all possible, right? However, internet meal kit giant Blue Apron is getting a harsh lesson in the importance of taking care of all its employees. BuzzFeed has learned that Blue Apron’s Richmond, California fulfillment center has had numerous crime and safety incidents, including employee violence and OSHA violations. There have been instances of staff brandishing knives, for example, and workers suffering accidents using equipment they’re not certified to use.
There have also been complaints about excessive hours (thankfully with overtime), a lack of stringent hiring practices and high stress levels, all of which are the product of Blue Apron’s business model. It has to regularly ship meals sourced from a wide array of locations, with both maximum convenience (you can change your order a week before delivery) and extremely low waste levels. Combine that with rapidly growing demand and there’s frequently zero tolerance for error, whether it’s inventory levels or shipment rates. High employee turnover has reportedly been common, and the company says it had problems with temp agencies recruiting workers with criminal records and other sub-standard behavior.
For its part, Blue Apron tells BuzzFeed that it has “learned from the operational challenges” of earlier times, and is “always working to improve” its environment. And there’s evidence to support this. The company has reduced the volume of police visits, hired a safety manager and purposefully slowed its growth. The problem is that Blue Apron didn’t fully grasp the importance of these issues early on — like many tech startups, it was primarily focused on keeping up with its ever-larger customer base. The investigation is a reminder that internet firms have to think about every aspect of their company when they grow, not just their code or subscriber counts.