Is it possible that post-Covid-19, staff welfare will become as important as sustainability as a metric with socially aware consumers? In the midst of the pandemic, the treatment of retail employees is under intense scrutiny, with many retailers coming under attack for putting sales before staff wellbeing.
While some businesses have closed their online operations (Next, River Island, Moss Bros) others are continuing and some are being criticised for the way staff are being forced to work in crowded conditions.
Asos carries on regardless
Community, the trade union that represents Asos’s Barnsley-based distribution workers has said it wants the fulfilment centre to carry on trading.
The union has rejected calls for its closure by rival unions and politicians who have questioned coronavirus safety measures at the premises. Press reports have recently highlighted the fact that many Asos warehouse workers are concerned about health and safety at the depot.
However a spokesman for Community, the union that struck a recognition deal with Asos in 2017, told Retail Week that as long as recommended changes are made to enhance safety then the warehouse should remain open for ecommerce fulfilment.
Making sure staff are safe
The spokesman said the main improvement required is to changeovers at the end of shifts, to ensure staggered arrivals on site, which would help minimise interaction and improve social distancing.
He said “If the changes can be implemented and we’re satisfied they’re working, then it should stay open.”
Asos has made changes to practices at Barnsley, including reducing shift numbers to 500 people – at peak it would be 4,000. It has stopped next-day delivery and is running more buses to and from the distribution centre to reduce the number of people per bus. It has also arranged for weekly visits from environmental health officers.
Local authority and government support
The Government is keen for online retailers to continue to trade and Asos’s decision to keep Barnsley open is supported by the local authority. Last week, the council wrote to the etailer to say it was “reassured to see the measures you have put in place to maintain social distancing for the protection and welfare of your employees”.
Who has mothballed ecommerce operations?
However several retailers, including Next, Fenwick, Moss Bros, Net-a-Porter and River Island, whose products aren’t currently considered essential under the government’s lockdown rules, have shut their online businesses to protect their workers’ safety and wellbeing.
Press reports have revealed that the GMB union has targeted several retailers’ online operations since the outbreak and social distancing rules began.
Retail industry sources believe the union hopes to win more recognition deals by fomenting industrial unrest, says Retail Week.