12 May 2016
Fashion firm Asos is at the centre of a “Big Brother” spying row over plans to install cameras monitoring thousands of staff at its main warehouse.
They are to be put in place above workstations at the online retailer’s distribution centre by the end of the year, the Standard has learned.
Bosses have informed staff the extra surveillance is to improve efficiency. But one warehouse worker told the Standard: “[Management] told us that it’s for ‘customer care’ but we think they’re going to be spying on it.
“It’s going to put even more pressure on us to go quicker. Everyone feels a bit wary about [the cameras]. It’s going to feel like we’re in Big Brother.”
Union GMB attacked the move, claiming it was an invasion of privacy and showed “very little dignity and respect” to staff at the distribution centre. Asos started out as a website where customers could buy affordable versions of outfits worn by celebrities —“as seen on screen” — but is now one of the UK’s biggest online clothing retailers.
It is understood between 200 and 300 cameras could be installed at the workstations where staff pick and pack customer orders.
Each camera would watch over between 10 and 20 of the 4,000 staff at the hub in Barnsley, managed by US multinational XPO Logistics. Asos declined to comment but Ken Perritt, supply chain account director at XPO Logistics, said the cameras will “help us to verify and respond swiftly to customer order queries”.
He added: “We have had CCTV cameras in place since the warehouse opened for the safety and welfare of our colleagues, the security of the facility and to monitor areas that can get very busy at key operational times.”
But staff said these were not for observing individual workers.
Chris Rowley, a professor of human resource management at Cass Business School, said: “Management should not create a panopticon (a prison where it is possible to observe all inmates) for its own sake — that is very risky and the reputational costs and damage to staff morale very real.”
The warehouse hit headlines last year when the GMB claimed workers were urinating in the drinking fountain because some were not given time to visit the lavatory. Asos denied the claims.
Last year unions accused Sports Direct of subjecting warehouse workers to “Victorian” practices with rigorous searches and surveillance. Boss Mike Ashley has been summoned to appear before Parliament on June 7 to discuss conditions at its facilities, but has refused to attend.