Amid the crisis, let’s name and shame the companies treating workers ‘like rats’

Asos workers and logo
Fréa Lockley

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed both the best and worst of people. Communities around the UK are helping each other via mutual aid groups. Many small businesses are doing their best to support people through the lockdown. Meanwhile, some large companies have redefined the very definition of disaster capitalism. In their chase for profit, they’re putting workers at risk, and one stands accused of treating employees “like rats”.

“Cradle of disease”

The GMB union sent a survey to people working at Asos. In a press release, it said, that “98%” of those who responded “feel unsafe at work” during the coronavirus crisis. According to GMB:

Terrified Asos workers say they feel ‘like rats’ in a warehouse they have branded a ‘cradle of disease’. 

Asos “ramped up” operations in its Barnsley factory. This is:

now processing orders from the company’s German warehouse – which has closed – and hundreds of extra staff have been drafted in to deal with the million online orders Asos received over the weekend.

Workers report no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking in system which means large numbers of people gather in a small area, and hundreds of workers all breaking for lunch at the same time. 

In April 2019, Asos reported that pre-tax profits fell “87% to £4m for the six months to 28 February against the same period in 2018”. However, it also said that “it had managed to stabilise sales, which rose 14% to £1.3bn” in the same period.

In 2019, its owner Anders Holch Povlsen had an estimated wealth of “£6.1bn and is Scotland’s biggest private landowner”.

“We gonna die there”

GMB shared responses to the survey. One person asked:

I am with high risk so if something happens to me, they will look the other way because I am not important enough. Who is going to raise my 1-year-old son?

Another questioned the impossible choices they face:

It is an infectious centre, you can get the COVID at any given time. Why am I still there? I can’t live on 94 pounds per week. I cannot help my family with that. It sounds stupid but making money to live is more important than being healthy right now.

Others pointed to the lack of social distancing, cleaning of shared areas, and sanitiser. One person said it’s “not safe at all, I am scared to go”. Aisles are reportedly “less than 2m wide” and workers constantly “pass face to face” with each other. There are fears that if one worker contracts coronavirus it will pass to everyone.

Other workers shared similar concerns on Twitter:

A video emerged that appears to show the lack of social distancing for workers leaving the Asos factory:

“They need to shut it down”

GMB general secretary Tim Roache called Asos working conditions “scarcely believable”. He said:

workers we’ve spoken to describe it as a ‘cradle of disease’. It’s absolutely horrifying, a real catalogue of shame.

Roache also fears the situation may only “get worse” after Asos ran a “huge sale” at the weekend. He continued:

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.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also flagged concerns after reports emerged about ambulance visits to the Barnsley factory:

Others, meanwhile, called for a boycott of Asos and other companies putting workers at risk for profit:

Not alone

Sadly, Asos isn’t the only company putting people at risk. The Range exploited a loophole and installed freezers in stores, meaning it could remain open through the crisis. According to an online petition, it refused to sign up to the government offer to pay 80% of workers’ wages and is forcing them to work without proper protection:

Lewis Cotter started an online resource to highlight which UK companies he feels responded positively or shamefully to the pandemic.

Be the change

For many people struggling to pay rent and buy food, shopping for clothes is an unaffordable luxury right now. But that doesn’t mean that workers should be exploited in life-threatening conditions to serve those who can afford to pay. When this crisis is over, we need to stand firm and boycott each and every company which chased profit through this pandemic.

Featured image via Twitter – MechModVape / Asos.com

Get involved

  • Back the GMB campaign for Asos workers.
  • Sign the petition to support workers at The Range.
  • If you are working in an unsafe environment please contact The Canary on Facebook or email us editors@thecanary.co
  • Find support and guidance through the Covid-19 Mutual Aid network.

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