The Coronavirus outbreak has put unprecedented pressure on manufacturing and logistics operations. The risk of infection led to stringent safety measures, which have disrupted processes and caused a stressful few months for the industry, as the surge in demand for online retail added strain. Some companies reportedly have not abided by the new health and safety rules in order to meet the demand.
In recent months, Boohoo has been under scrutiny regarding reports of illegal wages and poor working conditions, but over the weekend it has come to light that workers in a supplier factory in Leicester, UK have been paid approximately £5.00 below minimum wage and forced to work in unsafe conditions. This is, in part, as a result of the increase in the demand of online fast fashion over the lockdown period. The company’s necessity to continue manufacturing during the crisis increased the risk of the virus spreading amongst its workforce. Labour Behind the Label, a garment workers’ rights group, found that ‘people were told to carry on working despite testing positive for COVID-19’.
This is not the first time an outbreak has been linked to a fast fashion facility. Around the start of the lockdown in the UK, ASOS’ Grimethorpe warehouse was reportedly the source of an outbreak as social-distancing and other preventative measures had not been adhered to. In a recent poll, the GMB Union poll found that of almost 500 workers at the Grimethorpe site 98% felt unsafe at work amid the Coronavirus crisis.
It was not just the fast fashion giants, who took risks for their operations during the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Before formal lockdown was announced in the UK on March 22, Amazon staff were told to work overtime in order to meet the spike in demand. Amazon increased its orders of many essential items such as cleaning products, baby supplies and long-life food. This initially put pressure on ‘inbound goods’ department, but as the lockdown was enforced and panic buying started many warehousing staff were expected to work extra hours as demand rose to peak levels, usually experienced at Christmas or around Prime week and are typically prepared for well in advance. This sparked the interest of unions with the GMB union’s national officer Mick Rix accusing Amazon of “imposing its demands on workers without any regard for their safety”, the BBC reported. It was not only in the UK that Amazon came under fire for the treatment of its workers. Staff in France, Italy and the US protested against a ‘business as usual’ attitude shown by Amazon, in spite of the risk of infection as workers tested positive for COVID-19.
As the UK closed its high street, the use of online shopping increased greatly, according to the ONS online sales as a proportion of all retailing soared to 33.4% in May 2020, the highest proportion on record, up from 30.8% in April 2020. Though inevitable in hindsight, many companies were not prepared for such demand and seemed to prioritise profit over safety. The severity of the situation led to union involvement and press exposure. These circumstances underline the need for restructuring of warehouse operations. However, as that is still a massive investment for companies, these measures and discussions will continue to exert pressure on companies’ integrity. Whilst the Coronavirus crisis will end; the challenges surrounding wages and working conditions are ever present, but as the issues are highlighted it allows them to be addressed.
Source: Transport Intelligence, July 7, 2020.
Author: Holly Stewart