Nick Beighton, the chief executive of online fashion retailer Asos, has said he has put in a shift at the Barnsley warehouse where concerns were raised about working practices last year and found conditions to be “great”, The Guardian reports.
Six local MPs recently visited the warehouse after reports workers often went without regular toilet or water breaks. The company branded those claims “misleading” and “inaccurate” and said that people can take toilet and water breaks whenever they want.
When asked what action Asos was taking following the MPs’ visit, Beighton said “there is nothing to resolve” and “no next steps” were planned.
Asos is yet to set a date for a visit from another group of MPs from the business energy and innovation strategy committee who are investigating conditions in Barnsley.
However, last week Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union which has been campaigning for change at the Asos warehouse, told the BEIS committee that workers there were on flexible contracts which meant they could receive just 24 hours notice of a change to their hours. He claimed half the workers were employed via agencies with no guarantee of employment.
A representative from Transline, the employment agency used by XPO Logistics which operates the warehouse on behalf of Asos, was unable to tell MPs of any specific improvements to conditions there since the GMB criticisms came to light.
Beighton said all of Asos’s executive directors had taken on a shift in Barnsley in the last three months. “Barnsley is something we are immensely proud of,” he said. “We don’t claim to be perfect, none of us are. But every time we don’t like the sound of [something] we have a look and fix it.”
He said the company would be spending £20m on developing the warehouse in the next 12 months, including putting in a wellness centre and gym for workers as well as new sorting equipment. He said Asos had addressed all the allegations made by the GMB and staff satisfaction had now increased.
Unveiling a better than expected 38 per cent surge in sales, Beighton said Asos’s twentysomething shoppers cared about the way their clothes were produced and ethically sourcing its products was “not optional” but a “business imperative”.
He said the company had published a list of all its suppliers and put more resources into monitoring the factories it uses around the world in terms of working conditions, health and safety and minimum wage “throughout the supply chain”.
Sales at Asos rose by 38 per cent to £889.2m in the six months to 28 February as the business benefited from a 54 per cent rise in sales overseas, with particularly strong growth in Australia and Russia.
The devaluation of the pound after the EU referendum helped exports which now make up 60 per cent of the group’s sales. Sales in the UK, the London-based firm’s most established territory, rose 18 per cent, despite difficulties in the wider fashion market, as Asos improved its A-List loyalty scheme.
But shares in Asos closed down about slightly at £59.53 as the company said profit margins had fallen because of the increased costs from A-List as well as a rise in the price of goods from overseas because of the lower value of the pound. Pre-tax profits rose by 14 per cent to £27.3m.
The company said it expected sales for the year to rise by between 30 per cent and 35 per cent, ahead of previous expectations of 25 per cent to 30 per cent, but annual profits would not be higher than predicted because of the increased costs.