ASOS Investigation Claims: How Long Will We Continue To Overlook The Human?

When Asos brought its supersized warehouse to Grimethorpe, just outside Barnsley in United Kingdom, the former coal-mining town became the center of the world’s fastest growing fashion empire.

Asos founder and former CEO Nick Robertson said in 2008 he needed the fashion empire to be the “Amazon of fashion”, and the business has become relentlessly, since it was launched in 2000, having established across 241 markets. In 2015, it hit over £1.15 billion sales. Presently the fashion empire is targeting £2.5 billion yearly sales by 2020. In the four months to June 2016 alone, Asos’ sales topped £514.6 million, a 30% increase from the same period the prior year.

Whether you are in San Francisco or London an army of warehouse workers have assembled the garments, shoes, and jewelry to be sent the world over and delivered to your doorstep in two working days. XPO runs the distribution center on behalf of Asos and a company called Transline handles the recruitment part.

To take care of consumers’ voracious demand for fast fashion, the Grimethorpe site works day in and day out; as day-shift warehouse workers leave, overnight workers come in, prepared to dispatch orders from 26 miles of walkways.

In a three-month investigation, BuzzFeed News talked with current and former Asos warehouse workers and got obtained phone recording, internal memos and text messages that uncover the exceedingly pressurized conditions required in getting online requests from the company’s warehouse to consumers over the world within 48 hours.

Temporary and permanent staff say they are burdened with arduous targets to process high volumes of orders every hour, and some say this even discourages them from stopping to drink water or use the washroom. Moreover, the managers have even asked that they don’t so towards the end of the shifts.

The investigation comes as Asos finds its working practices under scrutiny. A month ago Labor MP Owen Smith censured the company’s use of flexible working contracts, and the exchange union GMB called the House of Commons business select board of trustees an inquiry into the firm after complaints about working practices at the Grimethorpe warehouse and “invasive monitoring and surveillance” of staff.

It comes in the midst of growing public concern over the use of flexible contracts following exposés about the treatment of workers by companies such as Deliveroo, Hermes and Sports Direct.

In the Asos investigation carried out by BuzzFeed, it was found that:

Asos supervisors live-monitor the quantity of orders put through the hand scanners users by warehouse workers, who can be reprimanded if they fall behind.

Workers say they can’t take regular water breaks or toilet breaks because of the constant fear of missing targets.

Agency staff say they are kept on contracts they believe are exploitative as they take into consideration them to have assignments finished without notification, to be sent home without pay, or to be advised not to come in if management chooses to cancel their shift at any time.

Staff on “annualized hours” contracts say their shifts can likewise be crossed out or stretched out at short notice under an arrangement that allows Asos to “flex up” and “flex down”, and that extra hours have been adequately unpaid with workers being given time off as opposed to money for time worked.

Workers have had their assignments ended after falling sick at work or taking some time off to take care for sick relatives.

Staff claim that security on the site is intrusive, and they are even made to remove their shoes for spot checks and searched upon entering the toilets.

Pay is docked if a worker arrives at the warehouse even a moment late.

Logistics company XPO, which runs the warehouse, questions the allegations. It says workers are paid for every single minute worked and that it attempts to guarantee a best-in-class and safe workplace.

Employee practices are under scrutiny following the relevations about the treatment of workers at British retailing team Sports Direct. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said in a 37-page-report that the retailer was regarding employees as ‘commodities’ rather than human beings.

Food delivery services, UberEATS and Deliveroo have both as of late dissented over their compensation structure, in the most recent sign that distress among workers in the gig economy is growing. Sports Direct is under scrutiny by HMRC for paying workers less than the national minimum wage.

The Committee heard a series of records of employee mistreatment, including staff being punished for matters such as taking a short break to drink water and for taking some time off work when sick.

Here are some of the most stunning facts heard by the board:

An employee got an email laying him off, with no clarification, simply paid off and a pay statement after he had taken off sick for a few weeks because of ill health.

A female worker from staff said she was being forced to discuss her periods publicly (she had been off sick, because of period pains, having routinely worked 12-hour days).

The employees were being made to check out so wages won’t over budget plan yet they were made to continue working, so they weren’t being paid for all of the hours they did.

The area manager would send an email on Monday mornings with a list of total hours worked by each of his managers the week before. Whoever did the minimum would get a lecture on things like now showing commitment. This would generally be in the form of a rant with everybody else copied into the email. Anything less than 55 hours a week wasn’t considered productive.

Staff on zero-hour contracts were being forced to work a further three hours without pay.

A total of 110 ambulances were dispatched to the Shirebrook warehouse’s postcode between 1 January 2013 and 19 April 2016 with 50 cases named “life-threatening”, including breathing problems, fitting and strokes, chest pain and convulsions, and five calls from ladies suffering pregnancy issues, including one lady who conceived a child in the toilet in the warehouse.

In the past few months, couriers for UberEats and Deliveroo have been organizing all-day strikes over proposed changes in the way staffers are treated. UberEats has decreased couriers; rates since the service launched in June in London. Workers are presently calling for UberEats to execute payment rates equivalent to a living wage of £9.40 an hour.

Of course, corrupt bosses are to be blamed for it. Today it’s never been easier to overlook the human factor, and that begins with us. When we shop, we do it online and it’s picked and pressed by a faceless worker in warehouses like ASOS, Sports Direct and Amazon.

When your delivery arrives, we disregard that a real person was involved in the process, especially in today’s age where so many of these tasks are now being performed by robots. The question is: how long will companies continue to overlook the human factor, because it is the fastest and the cheapest option available?

Anna Verasai
Anna Versai is a Team Writer at The HR Digest; she covers topics related to Recruitment, Workplace Culture, Interview Tips, Employee Benefits, HR News and HR Leadership. She also writes for Technowize, providing her views on the Upcoming Technology, Product Reviews, and the latest apps and softwares.

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