Amazon has launched a new $1 billion fund to invest in companies that will make delivery faster, further automate warehouses and, ideally, improve worker safety.
The new fund's first round of investment includes Modjoul, a wearable safety technology company that's main product is a belt that gathers biomechanical data on workers and is intended to reduce musculoskeletal injuries for warehouse workers. In addition, Amazon used the fund to invest in several robotics companies that make walking robots, robotic arms and other automated technologies for warehouses.
The Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund "will invest in companies that imagine solutions that incrementally increase delivery speed and further improve the experience of employees working in warehousing and logistics fields," the company wrote in a press release.
Manufacturing issues, chip shortages and supply chain bottlenecks markedly reduced profits for Amazon and its competitors in 2021. Those issues have continued into 2022 and could continue to be a problem. While the fund alone won't solve them, it could help buffer Amazon from the impacts.
The retail giant has also struggled to recruit enough workers to supply its massive and growing logistics network. The company cited increased labor costs and new hiring incentives as major reasons for high operating costs in its October 2021 earnings report.
Over the past several years, the company has seen warehouse injury rates above the national averages. A report out this month from Strategic Organizing Center, a pro-union organizing group, revealed that Amazon's warehouse injury rates continue to sit at about double that of its major competitors, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration data. Worker safety at Amazon's warehouses has become a national flashpoint, particularly in the wake of a tornado that killed six Amazon workers in Edwardsville, Illinois, last December.
“Even as we have continually improved our operations to better the employee experience and enhanced safety through the development of new workstations with better ergonomics, we hope this fund opens the door for more collaboration,” said Alex Ceballos Encarnacion, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development, in the press release.