Warehouse workers at online fashion retailer Asos are facing tougher surveillance and are unable to take regular toilet and water breaks for fear of missing targets, a report has claimed.
The news come after GMB, one of UK’s largest trade unions, has called on the Business Select Committee to launch an inquiry into working practices at Asos, warning it could become “the next Sports Direct”.
Security measures at an Asos warehouse in Barnsley have intensified to the extent that workers are reportedly made to remove their shoes for spot checks and are searched upon entering the toilets.
According to an investigation by BuzzFeedNews, agency employees are kept on contracts allowing the company to send them home without pay or cancel shifts at the last minute.
Workers have also allegedly had their assignments ended after falling ill at work or taking time off to care for sick relatives. One employee said she suffered from a panic attack due to the pressure and asked to be moved to another department. The management later reportedly decided to end her assignment
Global logistics giant XPO, which runs the distribution centre, denied the allegations. It said workers are paid for every minute worked and that the company works to ensure a “best-in class and safe working environment”.
“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of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out of date information," a spokesperson for Asos told The Independent.
"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 in conjunction with XPO, like the 50 different learning and development programmes offered, free mental health support and awareness training, subsidised food in a newly renovated canteen, or the £3m spent on a cooling system to keep the temperature down during the summer," the company added.
Matt Gingell, an employment law partner at Gannons solicitors, said: “Of course individuals’ rights will depend on a number of things such as whether they are classified as workers or employees, and the contractual arrangements in place. Irrespective of legal considerations though, businesses ought to provide reasonable and fair working conditions – and if they don’t, their reputations will suffer as a result.”
Neil Derrick, GMB regional secretary, said the Buzzfeed investigation shows that employment at Asos is not only stressful and exploitative but also hazardous to workers' health. “Health and safety issues, round 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 for too long," he said in a statement.
In June, The Independent reported that more than 4,000 workers at Asos distribution centre in Yorkshire were subject to constant CCTV surveillance and daily security searches.
Biggest business scandals in pictures
Biggest business scandals in pictures
1/21 Barclays CEO under investigation for trying to identify whistleblower - Monday Paril 10
Authorities have launched an investigation into Barclays chief executive officer Jes Staley for trying to identify a whistleblower, the bank said on Monday. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) are both investigating Mr Staley after the bank notified them that Mr Staley had tried to identify the author of two anonymous letters, which were sent to the board and a senior executive in June 2016.
2/21 UK to crack down on bank money laundering after reports of £65bn Russian scam, City minister says - March 2017
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury has vowed that the Government will crack down on money laundering practices, after several of the UK's biggest banks were accused of processing money from a Russian scam, believed to involve up to $80bn (£65bn).
3/21 Former HBOS bankers convicted of bribery and fraud over £245m loan scam - February 2017
Two former HBOS bankers were among six people found guilty of bribery and fraud that cost customers and shareholders hundreds of millions of pounds, the BBC reports. Lynden Scourfield, 54, a manager at HBOS, forced struggling clients to use the services of his friends David Mills, 60, and Michael Bancroft, 73. In return, the two businessmen arranged sex parties, cash and lavish gifts. On Monday, the three were convicted at Southwark Crown Court on accounts including bribery, fraud and money laundering. Mark Dobson, another manager at HBOS, Alison Mills, and John Cartwright were also convicted.
4/21 Former Reckitt Benckiser executive linked to death of 100 people in South Korea jailed for seven years - Friday January 6
A former South Korean executive of UK-based Reckitt Benckiser has been jailed for seven years over the sale of a humidifier disinfectant that killed about 100 people and left hundreds with permanent lung damage. Shin Hyun-woo, head of Reckitt Benkiser’s Oxy subsidiary from 1991 to 2005, was found guilty of accidental homicide and falsely advertising the deadly product as being safe even for children. The consumer product disaster affected many families in South Korea, where children and pregnant women often battle dry winter seasons with humidifiers. Other retailers such as Lotte Mart and Homeplus were also found guilty of selling the deadly product.
5/21 Rogue trader
A French court cut the damages owed by rogue trader Jerome Kerviel from €4.9bn (£4.2bn) to just €1m (£860,000). The court ruled on that Kerviel was “partly responsible” for massive losses suffered in 2008 by his former employer Societe Generale through his reckless trades. Kerviel has consistently maintained that bosses at the French bank knew what he was doing all along.
6/21 Lloyds chief apologises for damage caused by affair allegations - August 2016
Antonio Horta-Osorio, the chief executive of Lloyds Bank, has broken his silence over allegations about his private life admitting he regrets any "damage done to the group's reputation". In a message sent to the bank's 75,000 employees, the banker said that anyone can make mistakes while insisting that staff had to maintain the highest professional standards.
7/21 Christine Lagarde faces court over £340m Bernard Tapie payment - July 2016
The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, must stand trial in France over a payment of €403 million (now £340m, then £290m) to tycoon Bernard Tapie, a France's highest appeals court has ruled. The court rejected Ms Lagarde's appeal against a judge's order in December for her to stand trial over allegations of negligence in her handling of the affair. Ms Lagarde could risk a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of €15,000 euros if convicted.
8/21 HSBC senior manager arrested in FX rigging investigation at JFK airport in New York - July 2016
A senior executive at HSBC has been arrested at New York's JFK airport for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks, according to reports. Mark Johnson, global head of foreign exchange cash trading in London, was reportedly arrested on Tuesday. He will appear before a federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Bloomberg said.
9/21 Former PwC employees found guilty in 'Luxleaks' tax scandal - June 2016
Two ex- PricewaterhouseCoopers staffers were found guilty in Luxembourg of stealing confidential tax files that helped unleash a global scandal over generous fiscal deals for hundreds of international companies. Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet face suspended sentences of 12 months and 9 months and were ordered to pay fines of €1,500 (£1,230) and €1,000 (£822) for their role in the so-called LuxLeaks scandal. Despite the minimal sentences, the ruling was described by Deltour’s lawyer as “shocking” and “a terrible anomaly.” The ruling “puts on guard future whistle-blowers,” Deltour told reporters.The LuxLeaks revelations sped beyond Luxembourg, causing European Union regulators to expand a tax-subsidy probe and propose new laws to fight corporate tax dodging, while EU lawmakers created a special committee to probe fiscal deals across the 28-nation bloc.
10/21 Goldman Sachs dealmakers lavished Libyan officials with prostitutes to win contract - June 2016
A former Goldman Sachs dealmaker trying to persuade Gadaffi-era Libya to invest $1 billion with the investment bank procured prostitutes and invited Libyan officials to lavish parties in the hope of winning the business, the High Court heard on Monday June 13.The Libyan Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund is suing Goldman Sachs for inappropriately coercing its naïve staff into giving its sovereign wealth fund cash to the bank to invest in products they did not understand. The products were designed to generate big profits for Goldman, the LIA claims.Goldman denies wrongdoing and says the LIA was treated as an arms-length customer
11/21 Former boss of BHS said his life was threatened - June 2016
Darren Topp, the former boss of BHS, has said former owner Dominic Chappell threatened to kill him when he challenged him over a £1.5 million transfer out of the business. MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee asked Mr Topp about a £1.5 million transfer Mr Chappell made from BHS to a company called BHS Sweden.
12/21 Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley admits paying workers below the minimum wage - June 2016
Mike Ashley admitted paying Sports Direct employees below the minimum wage at a hearing in front of MPs. The company founder said that workers were paid less than the statutory minimum because of bottlenecks at security in an admission that could result in sanctions from HMRC.
13/21 Mitsubishi admits ‘improper’ fuel tests - April 2016
Mitsubishi has admitted to using false fuel methods dating back to 1991. The scale of the scandal is only just coming to light after it was revealed in April that data was falsified in the testing of four types of cars, including two Nissan cars.
14/21 Panama Papers: Millions of leaked documents expose how world’s rich and powerful hid money - April 2016
Millions of confidential documents have been leaked from one of the world’s most secretive law firms, exposing how the rich and powerful have hidden their money. Dictators and other heads of state have been accused of laundering money, avoiding sanctions and evading tax, according to the unprecedented cache of papers that show the inner workings of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is based in Panama.
15/21 Google's tax avoidance
Google reached a deal with the HM Revenue and Customs to pay back £130 million in so-called “back-taxes” that have been due since 2005. George Osborne championed the deal as a “major success”. But European MEPs have since called for the Chancellor to appear in front of the committee on tax rulings to explain the tax deal.
16/21 Turing Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli
Martin Shkreli became known as the “most hated man in the world” after his drug company, Turing, increased the price of a 62-year-old drug that treated HIV patients by 5,000% to $750 a pill. He was charged with illegally taking stock from Retrophin, a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and using it pay off debts from unrelated business dealings. Shkreli, who maintains he is innocent, and says there is little evidence of fraud because his investors didn't lose money.
17/21 Volkswagen emissions scandal
VW admitted to rigging its US emission tests so that diesel-powered cars would looks like they were emitting less nitrous oxide, which can damage the ozone layer and contribute to respiratory diseases. Around 11 million cars worldwide were affected.
18/21 Quindell, the scandal-ridden insurance firm
Quindell was once a darling of AIM but its share price fell in April 2014 when its accounting practices were attacked in a stinging research note by US short seller Gotham City. In August the group was forced to disclose that the £107 million pre-tax profit it had reported for 2013 was incorrect, and it had in fact suffered a £64million loss.
19/21 Toshiba Accounting Scandal
The boss of Toshiba, the Japanese technology giant, resigned in disgrace in the wake of one of the country’s biggest ever accounting scandals. His exit came two months after the company revealed that it was investigating accounting irregularities. An independent investigatory panel said that Toshiba’s management had inflated its reported profits by up to 152 billion yen (£780m) between 2008 and 2014.
20/21 FIFA Corruption Scandal
Fifa, football's world governing body, has been engulfed by claims of widespread corruption since the summer of 2015, when the US Department of Justice indicted several top executives. It has now claimed the careers of two of the most powerful men in football, Fifa President Sepp Blatter and Uefa President Michel Platini, after they were banned for eight years from all football-related activities by Fifa's ethics committee. A Swiss criminal investigation into the pair is ongoing.
21/21 Libor fraudster
City trader Tom Hayes, 35, has become the first person to be convicted of rigging Libor rates following a trial at London's Southwark Crown Court. Hayes worked as a trader in yen derivatives at UBS before joining the American bank Citigroup in Tokyo. He was fired from Citigroup following an investigation into his trading methods. He returned to the UK in December 2012 and was arrested following a two-and-a-half year criminal investigation by the SFO.
Employee practices are under growing scrutiny following the revelations about the treatment of workers at British retailing group Sports Direct. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said in a 37-page-report that the retailer was treating workers as “commodities” rather than human beings.
Couriers from UberEATS and rival food delivery service Deliveroo have both recently protested over their pay structure over the summer, in the latest sign that unrest among workers in the sharing economy is growing.
The Unite union has previously said that workers are vulnerable to exploitation in any industry where they are required to work flexibly, including retail, transport and the service industry.
“There is no access to justice. Even though on paper you may be regarded as an employee and able to access, if indeed you can afford it, the employment tribunal system, the reality is, for most zero-hour workers and short-hour workers, you are simply denied work if you raise a grievance or raise a concern with your employer” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said at the Sports Direct hearing in June.
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