Buzzfeed has officially released the details of an undercover three month investigation into working conditions at Fashion retailer giant Asos’ global distribution warehouse located in Barnsley.
The investigation comes as Asos finds its working practices under increased public scrutiny. Last month Labour MP and party leadership contender Owen Smith criticised the company’s use of flexible working contracts, and the trade union GMB called for the House of Commons business select committee to launch an inquiry into the firm following complaints about working practices at the Grimethorpe warehouse and “invasive monitoring and surveillance” of staff.
Global logistics giant XPO, which runs the distribution centre, disputes the allegations and provided a statement to Buzzfeed to respond to the claims.
BuzzFeed heard allegations from former agency workers who said they found their contracts had been terminated following illness or time taken off to care for sick relatives.
XPO replied saying that while it could not comment on individual cases, it does on occasion terminate assignments when “the length of absence is excessive”, but said absence procedures are “clearly communicated” to all colleagues. It would not, however, clarify what was classed as “excessive” time off.
Another worker claims that team leaders discourage use of the toilet and breaks to drink water in the last working hour of the shift, claiming that you are approached by HR for a performance management meeting if you cannot meet targets.
XPO denied this: “Our policy across the site is that people can take toilet and water breaks whenever they want. There are toilet and water facilities within four minutes of every workstation in the warehouse. These breaks are not counted as productive time and therefore do not affect targets.”
For permanent employees, XPO uses a demand-led rostering system known among warehouse staff as “flex”. While XPO said it gives employees a minimum of five hours’ notice for shift changes
In addition, workers told us they had been docked 15 minutes’ pay for clocking in one minute late, or even on the hour. This was despite there being sometimes long queues for workers to enter and exit the warehouse because of security checks as staff pass through the turnstiles, they claimed.
BuzzFeed News calculated that, based on 15 minutes being deducted on Asos’s standard hourly wage of £7.45 per hour, workers could be paid less than the minimum wage for that hour, at £5.59 for 59 minutes’ work.
Internal documents also show that workers are subjected to Breathalyser tests after any injuries or health and safety incidents, big or small – in one instance for a cut finger, one former worker claimed. They can also be subjected to both alcohol and drugs testing at random.
“We take employment incredibly seriously and continue to say very clearly that what continues to be thrown at us is simply not true – we don’t use zero-hours contracts, we pay above minimum wage, people can take toilet and water breaks whenever they want (and no that time doesn’t count against their performance targets).
“However, these stories continue to get written, and without mention of the investment that has been made in facilities at the site, the wide range of benefits we provide for our staff there, or the democratically elected Employee Forum that was set up to represent the workforce.”
The company added it had invested £81 million in the site since 2011, was awarded the Gold Standard for wellbeing by Barnsley Council in 2014, had multiple training schemes, and had created 567 new jobs over the past two years. It also ran a paid apprenticeship programme in conjunction with Barnsley College, it said.