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Next ends online orders as retailers face scrutiny over warehouse social distancing

Clothing retailer Next has stopped taking orders, as a number of retailers and logistics companies face pressure to implement social distancing rules in their warehouses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement posted on its website, Next said it would no longer be taking online orders “until further notice”. It said it had made the decision based on feedback from warehouse and distribution employees, with many feeling “they should be at home in the current climate.”

“As a result, we have taken the difficult decision to close our warehouse and distribution operations until further notice.”

Health authorities advise that COVID-19 is primarily spread through face-to-face contact between humans. As it is highly contagious, one person can potentially infect several others. This is especially true within close proximity (within two metres) or with inadequate hygiene facilities.

Next’s move came during a week when the UK government had already ordered “non-essential” retailers to close down their physical stores and told citizens to stay at home. This week has seen increasing scrutiny on the operations of online retailers as well.

Union GMB criticised NET-A-PORTER, ASOS and Matalan as well as logistics company XPO Logistics, while Usdaw criticised JD Sports, for reportedly not implementing rules to allow workers sufficient distance from each other.

However, an ASOS spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company “totally refute[s] the allegations made by the GMB.

“They are false, do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time, and are part of a continuing campaign against us and the recognised union on site, Community. It is simply not true to say we don’t enforce social distancing and it is not true to say that we have thousands of employees working under one roof. The reality is we typically have around 500 colleagues working in our 680,000 square feet facility at any one time and we have strict social distancing protocols in place but, it must be said, it is also our colleagues’ responsibility to adhere to them.

“As directed by the Government, we, along with other online retailers, are ensuring we are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational, for the good of our employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff, which is always our number one priority.”

A NET-A-PORTER spokesperson said: “The health and wellbeing of our colleagues and community are our first priority. We will be temporarily closing our London warehouse in line with similar temporary closures we have made in Europe and the USA, until further notice.”

An XPO Logistics spokesperson 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.”

Matalan and JD Sports had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication; this article will be updated with any additional comment received after publication.

Read our guide to keeping logistics workers safe during the pandemic here.