Asos has been heralded for its robust delivery system but a recent exposé has revealed what it’s like to work at the British e-tailer’s global distribution center near Barnsley in north-central England.
A three-month investigation by Buzzfeed News, published Thursday, explored the warehouse’s working practices, from arduous targets to unfair contracts to body searches. Reporters interviewed current and former Asos employees and discovered that in order to process high volumes of orders each hour, agency workers and permanent staff are often advised by managers to avoid taking water or toilet breaks.
In addition, on-site security allegedly instructs staff members to remove their shoes for spot checks, while workers are also subjected to searches upon entering the toilets.
Agency staff claim they’re kept on “exploitative” contracts that allow Asos to send them home without pay and cancel a shift or assignment at any time. Meanwhile, permanent staff members allege their hours are cut short or extended at short notice and that they’re sometimes compensated for additional hours worked with time off instead of money.
One agency worker interviewed by Buzzfeed said she was fired after a panic attack on the warehouse floor caused her to fall behind on her performance targets as a “picker,” which usually meant collecting 160 items per hour to be put together as orders by packers. Others said they had been penalized for taking sick days or time off to care for an ill relative.
According to the Asos careers website, the Barnsley warehouse is about the size of six football pitches (roughly 1.1 million square feet of floor space) and operates 24-7. Every one of the online retailer’s products passes through there before making its way by air, land or sea to customers all over the world. U.S. firm XPO Logistics manages the warehouse on behalf of Asos, while agency staff are recruited by a company called Transline.
Buzzfeed’s report followed trade union GMB’s call for Asos chief Nick Beighton to be questioned by the House of Commons business select committee over unfair employment practices at Barnsley.
“These reports show that employment at Asos is not only stressful, invasive and deeply exploitative but is also hazardous to workers’ health,” Neil Derrick, regional secretary of GMB, stated Thursday after the report’s release. “Health and safety issues, around the clock, in-your-face surveillance, impossible targets and unfair contracts have created a damaging, anxiety-ridden workplace and our members have been under the cosh [under pressure] for too long.”
XPO disputes the allegations.
In the four months ended June 30, Asos reported a 30 percent increase in retail sales, thanks to a 28 percent rise in the U.K. and a 53 percent surge in the U.S. retail sales, while EU sales increased 32 percent. At that time, the company boasted 12 million active customers worldwide. Asos is expected to report its full-year results on Oct. 18.