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Asos Has Told Staff It Is Changing Contracts Following Workers' Allegations

The online fashion giant wrote to staff detailing changes after a BuzzFeed News investigation uncovered serious complaints from workers about working practices.

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Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Asos is making a series of changes to employee contracts at its global distribution centre in the north of England amid complaints from workers that the existing terms are exploitative, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Workers at the fashion retailer's giant warehouse near Barnsley, south Yorkshire, were sent a letter at the end of last week announcing changes to warehouse shifts and the length of probation periods.

The changes, which are understood to have been under discussion for some time, were communicated to staff less than 24 hours after BuzzFeed News published the results of a three-month investigation into working practices at the Asos warehouse, which unearthed allegations of exploitative contracts, an overbearing security regime, and stressed workers.

It also follows the decision by Iain Wright MP, chair of the business select committee, to include Asos in a broader inquiry into working practices in January.

BuzzFeed News has seen a letter, dated "September" announcing changes to warehouse shifts and the length of probation periods. Several sources have confirmed that it was circulated after the investigation was published on Thursday.

The letter was sent out alongside another notice, dated 29 September, addressing media reports and encouraging staff to raise any issues with the "colleague forum," BuzzFeed News understands.

The letter, from XPO, which operates the warehouse on behalf of Asos, announced the company had increased the notice it gives colleagues when it requires them to work extra hours in a shift ("flex up") or work fewer hours in a shift ("flex down").

The notice has been increased from five hours to 24 hours in response to "continued work with our employee forum," the letter outlines.

Probation periods, previously set at six months, have also been reduced to three months.

The letter outlines "important changes" that went into effect on Sunday.

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The changes to the terms of the contract follow a three-month BuzzFeed News investigation, which revealed warehouse employees have concerns around the use of “annualised hours", known as "flex" at the site.

Annualised hours contracts enable the company to “flex up” or “flex down” the length of shifts every other week with five hours notice to cope with order fluctuations.

The maximum that an employee can be "flexed up" is 10 hours a week, or two hours a day, XPO, which has defended the use of the contracts, has said.

But employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said this arrangement benefitted XPO and Asos more than employees. They alleged the system meant they were uncertain about how long they were expected to work every other week and were "essentially" given back extra hours worked in time off rather than money.

The investigation came amid growing public concern over the use of flexible contracts following revelations about the treatment of workers by companies such as Sports Direct and Hermes, and protests by Deliveroo riders about pay structure.

The report also uncovered allegations of stringent security, pay docking and "unrealistic" KPIs.

XPO and Asos have dismissed the allegations as "misleading" and "inaccurate."

Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg / Getty Images

One employee welcomed the contract reforms on Tuesday, describing the move to increase the notice time as a sign "things are starting to change".

BuzzFeed News contacted XPO and Asos for comment on the contract changes, but neither had responded by the time of publication.

Contact Sara Spary at sara.spary@buzzfeed.com.

Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

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