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‘Dark satanic mills’ of the 21st century?

999 calls made to retail warehouses including JD Sports and ASOS soar
Hajera Blagg, Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Sports Direct isn’t the only retailer whose warehouse working conditions are shockingly draconian – new figures out today (May 7) reveal a high number of ambulance call-outs to retailer warehouses JD Sports and ASOS, among others.


Data collected by the Press Association through freedom of information requests found that ambulances had been called out to JD Sports’ warehouse in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, on 40 separate occasions in the last year alone. In the last three years, 117 ambulances had been called to the warehouse.


The highly profitable JD Sports – which this year enjoyed record success with sales soaring nearly 50 per cent to £4.7bn – has previously come under fire for failing to take corporate social responsibility on a number of issues including environmental sustainability and workers’ pay.


Online fashion retailer ASOS likewise reported a high number of ambulance call-outs. Ambulances were called on 45 occasions in the last year to its warehouse near Barnsley, which is operated on behalf of ASOS by XPO Logistics. In the last three years, the warehouse received nearly 148 call outs.


While the latest data doesn’t reveal the types of incidents paramedics attended to, a Mirror investigation in 2016 found that paramedic crews were treating warehouse employees every 9 days at the ASOS warehouse for incidents including falls, back injuries, seizures, and psychiatric disorders.


One warehouse worker told the Mirror that after spending four days in hospital, he was promptly fired for missing work. Workers also blamed unachievable targets based on a business model of next-day deliveries as the driving force behind unsafe working practices. Many reported returning to work not having fully recovered from an illness, out of fear of being sacked.


Working conditions in retail warehouses were first placed in the spotlight when a Unite campaign against Sports Direct grabbed national media attention.


In 2015, Unite blew the lid off of working practices at the retail giant’s Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire, where it was found that workers were being shamed on a PA system if they weren’t working fast enough, and were also being docked 15 minutes’ pay for being even one minute late. Emergency services were repeatedly called to Sports Direct’s warehouse in Shirebrook and many workers complained that sexual harassment was commonplace.


There were also reports of workers urinating in drinking fountains or bottles because they were not given time to go the toilet, and one woman was so afraid of missing work that she reportedly gave birth in a toilet.


Under pressure from Unite, Sports Direct has reviewed many of its working practices since the union campaign began — the number of ambulance call-outs to the site in Shirebrook has plummeted as a result, from more than 70 in 2014 to only 9 last year.


Still, Unite believes there is much more left to do to improve conditions at warehouses as a whole.


Unite national officer Matt Draper said the latest PA figures show that “the warehouses of some companies risk becoming the dark satanic mills of the 21st century.


“It doesn’t have to be this way though,” he added. “Where employers work with trade unions and treat people with respect there are fewer accidents and a better health and safety record.”



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