FOLLOWING a spate of allegations regarding the working conditions in its Barnsley warehouse, ASOS has issued a six-page statement refuting the recurring accusations in detail.
“I’m disappointed that inaccurate and misleading things have been said about how we manage our warehouse at Barnsley in Yorkshire,” CEO Nick Beighton wrote in the document published on the brand’s website. “I take huge exception to the idea that we are secretive and exploit our people. We have nothing to hide and much to be proud of.”
“We don’t pretend to be perfect and we are learning all the time,” he continued, highlighting some recent changes that have been made to the practices in the South Yorkshire warehouse following discussions with its staff-elected Employee Forum. These include reducing the probation period for employees and an upgraded time-tracking program to more accurately record lateness, ensuring that “employees are paid for every single minute they are working”.
The statement – which comes a week after BuzzFeed News published an investigation into the brand, accusing it of forcing employees to work under “highly pressurised conditions”, with “exploitative contracts” and “an overbearing security regime” – acknowledged that “No smoke without fire would be a reasonable reaction to the recent media coverage of the allegations against the brand.” However, it said that this was “ultimately inaccurate”.
“The picture of an uncaring, secretive and exploiting employer from Victorian times is false,” Beighton added. “If we ran our warehouse that way, we wouldn’t have a productive environment. The opposite is true in fact – our people regularly outperform and deliver outstanding results.”
Claiming that the South Yorkshire location was chosen for the warehouse when it was opened in 2011 “because of the unemployment created by the closing of the coal mine, and we believed we could make a difference in the area”, it asserted that £81 million has been invested in improving the building and working conditions since opening – including the installation of a more automated system which reduces the physical distance that has to be travelled by employees within the building. Another £23 million is said to be earmarked for developments in the next 12 months.
Terry Green – the chairman of the worker’s committee who has been an employee at the warehouse for more than five years – also refuted the accusations.
“We are part of a team where proper training is given, new incentives are being brought in regularly, and the building we are working in has gone from strength to strength,” he said. “It is insulting and annoying for all of us to continue reading things that are so untrue, and so different than what our day to day reality is. We are really proud of what we do together here and just want to get on with our jobs.”
In an attempt to dispel the allegations surrounding the contractual conditions employees work under, ASOS outlined in detail the “flex time” practice that it uses, where employees are put on “flex weeks” for 50 per cent of the year, during which they can be asked to alter their hours up or down depending on demand. Following meetings with the Employees Forum, the retailer said it has ended “same-day flexing” – in which staff members’ hours can be altered on the day – meaning that they are now required to give employees at least 24 hours notice.
On the topic of security, which it admitted can be “invasive and offensive” if handled insensitively, ASOS wrote that it has to take precautions in a warehouse that holds more than £150 million worth of stock. Therefore, it said, approximately two per cent of the people on site are searched each day. However, it conceded that these searches “should not be conducted during employees’ lunch or break time”, saying that in incidences where this has been the case, they apologised to the employees and emphasised to the security team that it should not happen at those times.
Another of the recurring allegations that the brand has found itself facing is of its staff being discouraged from taking toilet or water breaks due to high-performance targets. It once again denied this, claiming that such targets are “industry standard and constantly reviewed” and maintaining that “there are toilets and water fountains within a four-minute walk of any point in the warehouse”.
“Break time is not counted as ‘productive’,” it added, “and therefore does not impact productivity targets or pay.”