Fast fashion retailer Asos is facing pressure to close its warehouse during the coronavirus. The business insists that work is safe to continue, with social distancing measures in place.
The GMB union says that its survey of 500 workers at Asos’ Barnsley warehouse found that 98% felt unsafe to work during the coronavirus pandemic, in the light of Government guidance on social distancing. In all, about 4,000 people work at the site, which is operated by XPO Logistics on Asos’ behalf. The GMB says that the warehouse is now processing orders from its German warehouse, which is now closed, and that hundreds of extra staff have been drafted in to deal with a million online orders received over the weekend.
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Conditions at Asos are scarcely believable – workers we’ve spoken to describe it as a ‘cradle of disease’. It’s absolutely horrifying, a real catalogue of shame.
“Here you’ve got people packed onto public transport, a lack of social distancing, thousands of workers going into one warehouse then back to their families - it’s only going to get worse with a huge sale promoted over the weekend.
“The Government’s scheme for furloughed workers is there to support employers to do the right thing and keep people safe. Asos can more than afford to pay the extra 20% to help stop the spread. We no longer believe Asos can keep their workplace safe – they need to shut it down.”
Asos said in a statement: “We totally refute these allegations. They are false and do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time. In line with Government guidance, and with support from the Community Union and Barnsley Borough Council, we are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational, for the good of our employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff, which is always our number one priority.
“Since the lockdown, we have introduced a range of additional health and safety measures and the Environmental Health Officer, who visited the site on Friday, confirmed he was happy with the protocols we have in place.”
In a statement, the leader of Barnsley Borough Council, Councillor Sir Steve Houghton said: “In response to the concerns we received, our Regulatory Services visited the site on Friday March 27 and found that at the time of the visit there were various social distancing measures in place and at no point did our officer see any member of staff not in compliance with this.
“The company is following national government advice in terms of remaining operational, protecting the welfare of their employees and constantly reviewing how additional measures can be introduced where necessary. There are visual markers, frequent reminders, additional cleaners, new eating arrangements, dispersal of lockers and available hand sanitiser around the site.
“We can confirm that reports of three ambulances visiting the site during the weekend (March 28 to 29) have proved to be false.” Houghton said that the number and size of buses servicing the site was being increased where relevant.
Asos is a Leading retailer in RXUK Top500 research.
Over the last week, retailers including TK Maxx, Next, River Island and Games Workshop have closed their operations citing worker safety.
Image courtesy of Asos