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Online retailer fights back after accusation it treats workers like 'machines'

Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

British online clothing retailer Asos has come under fire after an investigative article in Buzzfeed revealed workers at its warehouse in Northern England were "treated like machines."

In a three-month investigation, Buzzfeed has revealed that staff at Asos' Barnsley warehouse, which is run by global logistics company XPO, were unable to take regular toilet or water breaks for fear of missing targets.

ASOS, which has become one of the U.K.'s leading online retailers recording a first-half sales of £667 million ($859 million), has however called these reports 'inaccurate and misleading'.

"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of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out of date information," a spokesperson at ASOS told CNBC via email.

"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 programs offered, free mental health support and awareness training, subsidized food in a newly renovated canteen, or the £3 million spent on a cooling system to keep the temperature down during the summer," an Asos spokesperson said.


Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

However, the investigative report from Buzzfeed reveals that workers have had their assignments ended due after taking sick leave or taking time to take care for sick relatives. Global logistics firm XPO that runs the distribution center by Asos has said these allegations were "false".

"To correct the record, the number of comfort breaks an employee takes is not a factor in evaluating performance. We are also fully compliant with the national minimum wage and national living wage, and do not employ anyone in our warehouses on a zero-hours contract. We invited the independent public body ACAS to review our annualized hours scheme before we implemented it and were met with approval," an XPO Logistics spokesperson told CNBC via email.

The issue has not gone unnoticed by the members of parliament (MPs) who have said they will investigate the working conditions of Asos. Iain Wright, Chair of the House of Commons business, innovation, and skill select committee told BBC's Newsbeat programme that the findings were "depressingly familiar."

Wright also said that the investigation into Asos will be part of a general inquiry looking into other U.K. retailers BHS and Sports Direct but did not rule out a separate investigation into Asos.

A number of other MPs also tweeted their support for taking up this issue in the Parliament.


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