LONDON — British fast-fashion e-tailer Asos has robustly defended itself against accusations made by the GMB, a U.K. trade union, claiming that it exploits its factory workers in Yorkshire.
The GMB issued a statement Thursday in reaction to a Buzzfeed News investigation that accused Asos of health and safety violations and improper monitoring and surveillance practices. Buzzfeed had reported that Asos employees were working under stressful conditions and had been issued contracts that allowed the company to terminate their roles without notice and dock pay for last-minute shift cancellations.
The factory that featured in the Buzzfeed report is located in Barnsley, England, and employs about 1,000 workers who fulfill orders. It won the British Safety Council International Safety Award in 2013, an accolade that recognizes companies that offer positive health and safety management practices and demonstrate commitment to workers and workplaces.
“There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information,” a company spokeswoman said. “This upsets us, but more importantly, it upsets the people who work there. Those who seek to portray the warehouse as an awful place to work never mention the positive work we do…like the 50 different learning and development programs offered, free mental health support and awareness training, subsidized food in a newly renovated canteen, or the (millions) spent on a cooling system to keep the temperature down during the summer.”
The GMB said it had contacted Parliament’s Business Select Committee, asking it to delve into working practices at Asos. It’s already been quite a year for British retailers in Parliament: Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley have both appeared in front of parliamentary committees looking into the businessmen’s respective work ethics and practices.
“These reports show that employment at Asos is not only stressful, invasive and deeply exploitative but is also hazardous to workers’ health,” said GMB regional secretary Neil Derrick.
“Ignoring the concerns of GMB members has now become downright dangerous. Health and safety issues; round the clock, in-your-face surveillance; impossible targets, and unfair contracts have created a damaging, anxiety-ridden workplace. GMB calls on the Business Select Committee to investigate these incidents as a matter of urgency before any more harm can be done to the workforce at Asos.”
According to the company’s 2015 annual report, U.K. total sales were up 28 percent with international sales up 12 percent and profitability stabilized. With 9.9 million active customers, the company targets “tech-savvy twentysomethings” and offers next-day delivery in the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Northern Ireland. They also offer express delivery options in more than 20 smaller territories and offer services in Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The annual report also notes that the e-tailer fulfills thousands of orders each day and instilled a new project delivery plan — “automation coupled with expansion.” Supply chain director Mark Holland said that the company “sees logistics as a competitive advantage that enables us to disrupt the market and automation was at the heart of our solution. That didn’t mean replacing people with machines, but enabling them to work faster and smarter.”
Previously, orders were fulfilled by “walking around the five levels of the warehouse to collect each item.” The new automated system allows workers to work in a smaller zone and products are then gathered into groups and delivered to be packaged. The company noted that it invested 3 million pounds, or about $4.5 million, into a cooling system for the warehouse.
Last month Labour MP Owen Smith criticized the e-retailer’s use of flexible working contracts.