Fashion giant H&M has come under fire for asking hundreds of staff to continue working at its Stoke-on-Trent warehouse – despite the coronavirus lockdown.
The distribution centre at Radial Point in Sideway, run by XPO Logistics, remains open with the high street chain still taking online orders for its clothes.
Boothen and Oakhill ward councillor Andy Platt raised the issue during a full council meeting, saying warehouse staff were being put at risk of infection for no good reason.
He called on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to take action against the company.
The council’s trading standards team is monitoring compliance with the new rules on non-essential businesses, and so far three in the city – a vape shop, a barbers and a mobile phone shop – have been required to close.
But distribution facilities are included in the government’s list of businesses which can remain open, meaning H&M is not breaking the law. XPO says it is ‘adhering to government guidance’.
Earlier this week another high street chain, Next, bowed to pressure from workers and closed its warehouse, near Doncaster. The company will not take any more online orders, until further notice.
Mr Platt believes H&M should do the same. He said: “I was shocked this morning when I heard that the XPO Logistics site in Stoke, where many of my constituents work, they’re being told to go in – there are 200 people in there today for H&M.
“What part of t-shirts and jeans is considered an essential service? Two hundred people are there in close proximity, potentially passing on and bringing home the virus into our communities. That shouldn’t be happening.
“I do hope our health and safety people can take that up. This has got to be wrong.
“Those aren’t key workers. DHL Nisa are key workers – it’s a very similar job but they’re moving food, so we can sustain ourselves. I can wait for a new shirt, I can’t wait for my tea, and that’s the difference.”
H&M was due to quit Stoke-on-Trent and open a new distribution centre in Milton Keynes in May, although the move may be affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
There are currently 129 full-time employees and 400 agency workers at the XPO distribution centre.
Council leader Abi Brown said the council’s trading standards team would look into Mr Platt’s concerns.
She said: “We have 25 officers in our trading standards team who have been out and about monitoring whether the advice form the government is being carried out.
“They are offering advice and support in how to do that, and I’m sure they’ve picked up your comments about that particular establishment and will follow it up. I had an update earlier today and I can assure you that they are taking their role seriously.”
The council says the ‘vast majority’ of non-essential businesses in the city have closed in line with the new legislation.
A spokesman for XPO Logistics said: “We’re supporting our colleagues by adhering to UK government and Public Health England guidance.
“As the situation evolves, all appropriate health and safety measures are being put in place, alongside regular two-way communication, which ensures staff are kept informed and we’re listening to any concerns they may have.”