Clipper Logistics’ Role as “breeding ground for coronavirus” in Boohoo’s Warehouses

Dangerous working conditions are common in Britain, and so day-in and day-out trade unionists do their best to force bosses to treat their workers with the dignity we all deserve. After all, without our hard work there would be no profits for the super-rich, so the least they can do is treat us with respect. But as we see time and time again capitalist bosses in their never-ending pursuit of profits place the accumulation of personal wealth before the needs of their employees. This is why socialists fight for workers to take direct control of their own workplaces and continue to organise for a socialist alternative to the capitalist exploitation that damages so many peoples’ lives.

Leicester is presently in the news because of our lockdown and the continuing abuse of workers rights in our city’s garment industry, most of whose textile factories are situated at the bottom of Boohoo’s supply chain. But capitalist exploitation is occurring all around us, not just in sweatshops. For example, if we just look to the company that currently distributes Boohoo’s products around the UK (and further afield), we find that unacceptable levels of exploitation are again at the core of what they do. The company in question, Clipper Logistics, was even the feature of a recent investigation in the Sunday Times (July 12) which run an article under the title “Boohoo warehouse was ‘a breeding ground for coronavirus’, said staff at distribution centre where 25 caught Covid-19.” The article, which concerned itself with a Clipper warehouse in Tinsley, Sheffield, however, did really add anything new to earlier regional reports on such exploitation, except to give Boohoo and Clipper the opportunity to assure everyone that everything was now in order.

clipper

On March 25 the BBC reported on the dangerous working conditions in the Tinsley warehouse explaining:

“One worker, who asked to be identified only as Patrick, said: ‘Going to work has the chance of killing me and infecting my grandson. To save lives, shut the place.’ Patrick said the warehouse, in the Tinsley area, had 4ft wide aisles where up to 10 people worked at a time, often passing close by one another while picking clothes for dispatch. Another warehouse worker, who did not to want to be named, told the BBC: ‘There are four small sanitiser dispensers in the warehouse and they’re always empty, it’s a breeding ground for Covid-19.’”

A month later an article carried in the local press again showed that little had changed:

“A PrettyLittleThing worker based at the Tinsley warehouse, who asked to remain anonymous told how he had heard from colleagues that two employees had been sent home on Thursday, April 23 with suspected coronavirus symptoms. ‘We haven’t heard anything from management about this and I believe they should have let workers know so we can fully protect ourselves,’ he said. ‘They’ve got distancing measures in place but not all employees are following them, and I don’t think it’s possible with so many people working here and the fact they’re trying to take on more staff.’” (The Star, April 25)

Clipper of course runs more than one warehouse — they own 46 — and rather unsurprisingly similar problems present themselves at their others sites. Thus, at Clipper’s warehouse in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, the BBC reported how several workers had

“…said warehouse staff were ‘crammed into corridors’ and given no hand sanitiser. It comes as people have been told to keep at least 2m (6ft 6in) apart to help curb the spread of coronavirus. Staff have also said their jobs should be classed as ‘non-essential’.

“Carly Maddock had worked at Clipper for three years, dealing with clothing refunds for High Street retailers, including M&S and River Island. She walked out on Wednesday – along with two other colleagues – over the lack of action taken from management. The mother-of-three said: ‘It’s not good, the corridors are tiny, there’s been no hand sanitiser for weeks apart from in the offices…’”  She said when she questioned the lack of social distancing and hygiene at the warehouse, a manager told her ‘at this time all I care is about getting refunds processed’. ‘When I voiced my opinions and said I felt unsafe one manager said “Just think of how many people die of cancer every year”.’ Ms Maddock said anyone who did not turn up to work would either be sacked or go unpaid.” (BBC, March 31)

But it seems unlikely that anything has really changed for the better at this warehouse, as in May a union representing workers at the site wrote to Clipper’s management to outline their ongoing safety concerns. Some of the issues that GMB raised with Clipper included members being scare to go to work because of a lack of social distancing, and “Management applying unnecessary pressure to breach social distancing to ensure that our members meet picking targets.” The union also pointed out how “Measures that are put in place when the site is visited by the Police or external regulatory bodies are not maintained after they have left, leaving members feeling dangerously vulnerable in the workplace.” (May 7)

Steve Parkin, who is the founder and chairman of Clipper, is a multi-millionaire who despite his start in life as a miner has no qualms with treating his working-class staff with contempt. In a useful demonstration of his misplaced priorities his boardroom in Leeds is decked out with a “walnut desk with gold inlay” that cost him £200,000 which to top it off is surrounded by 26 chairs that cost him a further £78,000!

clipper table

In 2016 Parkin gave a revealing interview to the Financial Times (March 18) in which he boasted that his “big break” came through his work with Sir Philip Green — the exemplar of the bullying Tory boss. Parkin said that Green’s “been a massive influence on the success of the business.” Parkin then went on to boast that despite his humble beginnings he had “always been a Tory,” noting that one of his heroes had always been Margaret Thatcher. He even explains how making money doesn’t concern him anymore: what gives Parkin a real “buzz” is exerting power over his employees. As he put it:

“…when I’m at home when I tell my children to do something, or my wife, I get a blank. I come in here and tell any of my people to do something, they do it. It is a power thing; but I love it.”

If this honest reflection from a megalomaniacal boss doesn’t encourage people to join a union then nothing will.

Parkin it seems has made his own personal fortune and he asserts that the only thing that drives him on to make more millions is it provides him with the ability to boss his people around. His evident power-trip helps explain the flagrant disregard that his company maintains for their warehouse workers who earn just a touch above the national minimum wage. Nevertheless, despite Parkin professing that he is not obsessed about the vulgar pursuit of personal wealth, we can be sure that just a few Clipper executives will continue to get fat off the exploitation of their workforce — or as Parkin has it, his people — who will continue to be forced to slave away in his dangerous warehouses for a pitance.

Emily Kenway discusses how the actions of the Tories that Parkin so loves have actively promoted the type of anti-worker policies that has encouraged the abuse of workers in ‘Boohoo’s’ sweatshops. In her Guardian (July 14) article she states that: “Employers push abusive working conditions on to workers for one very simple reason: to make more money. In this way, it’s an opportunistic act. So, very simply, we need to remove the opportunity.” But rather than make the case for abolishing capitalism, Kenway says we just need to exert more control over capitalist bosses. This leads her to propose three solutions: “properly funded labour inspection, ensuring reporting abuse is safe for migrant workers, and strong unionisation.” This of course would be a good start, and we should welcome her strong emphasis on the role of workers in improving their own working conditions as she goes on to conclude that…

“… the most effective defenders of workplace rights are workers themselves. We’ve become inured to the decline of unions, and yet Covid-19 demonstrates their importance: without them ensuring that health and safety rules – like social distancing and PPE – are observed, this job is left to business. Brands do have the power to ensure unionisation in their supply chains, just like they have the power to impose such low prices for orders that necessitate poverty wages, but they don’t use it. Boohoo was outed during a 2019 parliamentary inquiry for refusing “even the most basic level of engagement” with the union Usdaw, and for being generally hostile to workers organising for their rights. If the government really wants to avoid more lockdowns and more exploitation, it should mandate unionisation in high-risk sectors.”

As Kenway understands, the Tories are of course fully committed to exploiting workers and will never willingly mandate unions to help workers organise against their employers. The only way to change the balance of power in high-risk sectors, and for any workplace for that matter, is for workers to collectivise their workplace struggles by joining a trade union and by making sure that their unions act as a militant and political defender of the whole working-class.

But workers need to recognise that until we get rid of the profit motive that drives all capitalists onwards in their unrelenting oppression of our class, we will always be on the backfoot in defending our rights in our workplaces no matter how well-organised we become. That is why it is so important to simultaneously organise for a socialist future, and for that we will need democratic political organisations that are willing to fight for our class interests. Especially with the ousting of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party no longer serves this socialist purpose, and so the next task at hand will involve building a new mass workers party to help push forward the urgent need to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist alternative.

 

NOTE:

Clipper Logistics provides its exploitative services for many well-known Highstreet brands. As their CEO recently boasted: “We look after John Lewis, we work with Marks & Spencer, as we do with Asda, Wilkinsons, Superdry, Harvey Nichols, Liberty… a long, long list of retail big and small…. One of our biggest customers now is Pretty Little Thing… We work with ASOS…” He added that Clipped in fact has a “sizable account” with ASOS. (April 24, 2020)

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