"I get it, it is hot. But we still have to perform."
Boohoo has been hit by a fresh worker scandal, with claims that staff at a warehouse in Burnley were made to work in temperatures of up to 32°C over 12-hour shifts where they are expected to collect 130 items an hour.
In 2020, it emerged that some of its suppliers’ workers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.
Reports have now come to light about the working conditions at a warehouse in Burnley, with staff labelling themselves “slaves”, racism claims, sexual harassment and gruelling targets.
The fast-fashion giant said its figures showed pickers walked 7.8 miles per shift on average in August, however, an undercover investigation by The Times revealed that they walked significantly further.
The tough conditions have led to workers collapsing in the aisles, with an ambulance called to the site once a month on average.
Over the past five years, 75% of the 59 callouts led to the patient being taken to hospital, with four people falling unconscious, fainting or feeling like they were about to pass out in the last financial year alone.
An undercover reporter spent a month as a picker at the warehouse in August and September.
Staff are paid £11 an hour for shifts of up to 12 hours.
The role involves finding items from many miles of shelving, guided by a tracking device strapped to the worker’s wrist.
After a training period, staff are expected to find 130 items an hour, even though some can be several aisles away.
Failure can result in being disciplined by a manager and could ultimately lead to dismissal.
On one night when outside temperatures were around 19°C, inside the warehouse was 32°C.
While there is no legal maximum limit on workplace temperatures, the GMB union is campaigning for this to be set at 25C, while a former Boohoo staff member who worked in the warehouse’s control room said the heat made work “unbearable”.
A manager briefing night-shift workers said:
“I’m standing here and I’m not moving and already I’m dripping with sweat.”
An employee who challenged him said: “Then give us extra breaks.”
The manager replied: “No, no extra breaks. I get it, it is hot. But we still have to perform.”
Some staff said their toilet breaks were timed. Boohoo said it was standard practice for employers to monitor breaks but denied counting lavatory visits.
Graffiti on the floor of the warehouse described it as a “prison”, while “slaves” had been scrawled on the shelves in an aisle.
The warehouse is also facing allegations of racism.
A Pakistani man who had worked there for 18 months said he had seen a white marshal sending Pakistani employees to the hottest part of the warehouse, while white Bulgarians were kept in the cooler area.
One female worker alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by a colleague in a corner of the warehouse.
Afterwards, she told her floor manager but he allegedly did not tell his superiors. She then told another manager who allegedly accused her of lying.
When he was questioned, the perpetrator is believed to have admitted the assault and was later sacked.
Boohoo said it had dealt with the incident according to its “robust” procedures.
Boohoo has refuted the allegations. A spokesperson said:
“Boohoo is taking every claim very seriously, but does not believe the picture painted is reflective of the working environment at our Burnley warehouse.
“Over recent years, we have invited and subsequently received representatives from external organisations, authorities and people such as the GLAA, local MPs, the deputy leader of the local council, and Burnley College, and we remain committed to transparency and engagement.
“Making sure our people are safe and comfortable in their workplace is our highest priority.”
“That is why more and more of our colleagues are choosing to stay here for longer, with our turnover rate continuing to fall year on year.
“We offer generous rates of pay, well over and above the National Living Wage, with additional benefits including subsidised private healthcare.
“Through our employee engagement programme, our colleagues tell us that they are happy with their working environment, feel valued and feel listened to.
“We have been operating our Burnley warehouse for 12 years and are extremely proud of the work that we do there, the amazing team we have on-site and the important part our business plays in giving back to the local community.”