August Exposé: ASOS


Hey guys! Yet another exposé on one of biggest brands that you know and love!

I wasn’t actually aware of how deep the situation was with this month’s brand until it was mentioned in a recent Dispatches series that came out regarding their workers’ conditions. Only difference was, many of the workers exploited by this company reside here in the UK.

I’m talking about the one and only…..ASOS!

ASOS is an online shopping site that describes itself as a brand dedicated to ’20-somethings’, offering
‘cutting-edge’ fashion, and selling over 8,000 branded and own-branded
products. They have pretty big dreams for their brand, with their founder Nick Robertson stating he wants the company to become the ‘Amazon’ of fashion.

Tbh they’re doing pretty well financially. In the last four months, their retail sales have gone up 32%, and last year revenue grew by 26%, with sales of £1,403.7m.

According to Forbes, they currently
have an enterprise value (total value) of $6.1bn.

However, as always, their fortune is dependent on the abuse and exploitation of their workers. Here’s what we found.


Abusive working conditions in their


All the operations of ASOS take place in a warehouse in South Yorkshire. Buzzfeed conducted an investigation at the warehouse and revealed the harsh conditions workers endure.

High Targets

  • Workers are required to meet very high targets set by management, and many struggle to hit their expected hourly performance. For example, pickers must collect 160 items an hour in to meet orders.
  • Workers are unable to, and often discouraged from, taking toilet and water breaks.
  • Workers have handscanners attached to them, allowing management to track their working speed. A Tannoy system is used to call out those who are falling behind.

“If you cannot do the target, they come to you every hour and say you have
to improve it or you will get a performance management meeting with HR.”

“You are literally treated like a machine.”


Arbitrary Firing of Workers

  • Workers have had their contracts ended following illness or time taken off to care for sick relatives.
  • One former worker claimed they collapsed at work and were taken to hospital, only to return home to a letter informing them
    their contract had been terminated due to four days of absence.
  • Another worker took a day off to care for their mother who had had an emergency surgery, and was told by their team leader that taking time off was ‘ridiculous’.
  • Research for Dispatches also found that ASOS workers would be offered permanent jobs after completing 12 weeks, but were laid off before completion of this period.


  • ASOS runs reactively e.g. if sales have slowed, they will use promotions and flash sales to encourage customers to buy. Because these promotions are launched at short notice, demand can be unpredictable. Therefore, ASOS relies on their staff to be flexible
  • ASOS uses a ‘flex’ system that requires workers to be available to work or stand down from a shift at short notice every other week to help the company cope with fluctuations in sales volumes.
  • As a result, shifts are regularly cancelled at short notice. In some cases, people are given only 3 hours notice that they are going to work longer, or are told they are not needed despite having travelled to work.
  • Due to this system, many people are owed hours. One worker was owed 100 hours.
  • Labour MP Owen Smith called the flex system ‘one of the worse forms of zero-hours arrangements’ he had come across.
  • Research by the Channel 4 Dispatches team found workers being paid  as low as £3.08 an hour before expenses. Workers were often
    hired as apprentices, so they could be paid less.

Strict rules

  • Staff are prohibited from having cosmetics, jewellery, watches, and electronic devices including mobile phones on them at any time during a shift. One staff notice explains ‘If you are found to be entering the warehouse with any of these items your assignment will be TERMINATED’.
  • Workers were docked 15 minutes pay for clocking in one minute late, or even on the hour, despite the long queues for workers to enter and exit due to security checks. Buzzfeed calculated that a deduction on their standard hourly wage of £7.45 per hour, means workers could be paid less than minimum wage, £5.59 for 59 minutes of work.
  • Typically, dismissal follows a verbal warning, a first written warning, and
    a final written warning, but agency workers said they could be dismissed without notice, following just a verbal warning.
  • Due to issues with theft, staff are subjected to extensive security
    precautions. There are random searches during shifts, when visiting bathrooms, and on entering and exiting buildings. Workers are also subjected to Breathalyser tests after injuries, including one worker who was required to take tests after a cut to the finger.
  • One worker was suspended after she refused to let security guards search her car until she had finished eating lunch.

“We are all being treated like
thieves, from the start and all the time.”


The Use of Viscose

  • Viscose is a popular man-made fibre used by fast fashion companies. It is produced using a highly chemical-intensive process that is having disastrous environmental and human health impacts
  • Viscose is commonly manufactured in Asia. In a recent study looking into viscose manufacturing plants in Indonesia, China and India, manufacturers were found dumping untreated wastewater, which contaminated local lakes and waterways. This has led to severe health issues, including a growing incidence of cancer, with villagers no longer drinking from the well water, fearing for their health.
  • In one lake, the water had turned black, killing fish and shrimps, and
    stunting crop growth.
  • The factories have also destroyed many traditional
    livelihoods, particularly affecting local fishermen.
  • ASOS was found to be sourcing from two polluting companies in Indonesia and India.


“The water from the wells was never this sour,
the government came and marked the hand
pumps red and asked us not to drink from
them. But what do we do for water? Now just
one well supplies water to the whole village.”


Refugee Exploitation

  • Many clothes sold in Britain are now made in Turkey because the
    country is close to Europe and is used to dealing with orders speedily.
  • A recent BBC Panorama investigation found garment factories in Turkey exploiting Syrian refugees.
  • Most of them didn’t have work permits and were working illegally. Many were earning little more than a pound an hour, and in terrible working conditions, knowing they were being exploited but couldn’t do anything about it.
  • In one back-street workshop, Syrian children were found working. Here, they disovered an ASOS sample in the office.ASOS accepted its clothes were made in the factory (they found 11 Syrian adults and three under 16 year olds working doing the same work as the adults) but said it was not an approved factory.
  • One of the refugees told Panorama they were poorly treated at the factory. He said:

 “If anything happens to a Syrian, they will throw him away like a piece of



So there you have it. ASOS really isn’t all that its making itself out to be. As the target audience, it is crucial that people like us speak out against ASOS and their human rights abuses. Make sure you get in contact with them, and tell them to fix themselves. Next day deliveries, promotional sales, and fast access to the latest fashion trends seem like reasonable offers, but they are only made possible through the mental and physical torture of workers to meet our demands.

Check the contact deets below:

Twitter: @ASOS

Insta: @ASOS


Chat line:


020 7756 1000

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