The drink had all the hallmarks of a beverage sensation. Eye-catching design, bold font and the succinct name “Release”. But inside, each bottle was filled with urine that had allegedly been discarded by Amazon delivery drivers and collected from plastic bottles on the side of the road.
However, that didn’t stop Amazon from putting it up for sale. The publication even reached number one bestseller in the “Bitter Lemon” category. It was created by Oobah Butler for a new documentary. The Great Amazon Raidwhich airs today in the UK on Channel 4.
Butler is a journalist, presenter and famous stunt performer – he is probably best known for turning his shed in a London garden into a garden Restaurant ranked number one on Tripadvisor. The Great Amazon Raid begins with him infiltrating an Amazon distribution center in Coventry with a hidden camera and speaking to workers who complain of foot and back pain, potentially dangerous working conditions and near-constant surveillance. Butler spends his first day unloading a scorching hot truck without a working fan or air conditioning.
Amazon spokesman James Drummond says “nothing is more important” than the safety and well-being of employees and that the company provides protective clothing and footwear and has “dedicated health and safety teams on site.”
Butler happens to be present at the Coventry warehouse during a recruiting tour. At the time, workers attempted to gain union recognition and the GMB union has done so ever since accused Amazon intentionally hired hundreds of additional employees to prevent the vote. Amazon denies this.
He is recognized within days and interviews delivery drivers who tell him that they are being punished for slow deliveries to the point where they have to urinate in bottles because they don’t have time to stop somewhere where they can take their bathroom breaks.
Drivers urinated in bottles reported in the past, but what wasn’t known is that some claim they are also being punished for having these urine-filled bottles in their truck when they return to camp. (Drummond disputes this and says Amazon drivers are reminded to take regular breaks via the Amazon Delivery app). To avoid fines, they dump the bottles on the side of the road. Butler searches the roadsides near Amazon warehouses from Coventry to New York to Los Angeles and often comes across liquid gold.
From then on, it’s ridiculously easy for Butler to list Release for sale on Amazon, with very few controls in place to ensure the product he’s selling is safe and legal. “Releasing the drink was surprisingly easy,” Butler told WIRED. “I thought the food and beverage license would stop me from listing it, so I started it in the refillable pump dispenser category. Then the algorithm translated it into drinks.”
At some point he is even contacted by an Amazon representative who is willing to take care of packaging, shipping and logistics through the Fulfillment by Amazon program. (No member of the public was actually sent driver’s urine; instead, Butler lured a group of friends to make the purchases.) When he saw the product for sale, Butler “was very excited at first and found it very funny,” he says. “When real people started buying the product, I was a little scared.”