Asos brings in lawyers to tackle sex harassment claims

·3-min read
ASOS
ASOS

Asos, the online fashion giant, has appointed an external law firm to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.

The decision was taken after anonymous posts were published on Instagram in the spring, accusing the £3.8 billion company of being a “boys club” where inappropriate behaviour had occurred.

It is understood the probe by specialist employment lawyers is ongoing and staff have been interviewed.

While the claims about the fashion company were anonymous, an investigation by The Telegraph has learned that several women and men working for the firm have complained in recent years about inappropriate behaviour in both the firm’s head office and customer service centre.

Complaints to senior managers and human resources about problematic behaviour have included allegations of sexual harassment, racism, bullying and homophobia.

On Thursday night, a spokesman for Asos said that they took concerns raised by any of the company’s 3,000 staff “extremely seriously” and that “while no business is insusceptible to individual bad behaviour, we expect all of our people to behave responsibly and respectfully at all times”.

“As soon as we became aware of the allegations about us and other brands … we launched an internal review, supported by legal experts”, they said.

News of the investigation is likely to fuel concerns over problematic behaviour in the fashion industry, which has been hit by serious allegations in recent years.

In 2019, the Telegraph revealed how Sir Philip Green – who owned Topshop - paid a female executive more than £1 million after she accused the retail tycoon of groping her.

In the same year, Ray Kelvin, the founder and chief executive of fashion chain Ted Baker, resigned following allegations of misconduct, including “forced hugging”.

When the allegations against Asos were published on Instagram, they sparked an outcry amongst staff and were discussed at “town hall” meetings.

The fashion giant appointed law firm Lewis Silkin to probe the claims, and emailed staff inviting them to contact the law firm in confidence. It also offered counselling.

After being made aware of the inquiry, The Telegraph spoke to dozens of current and former employees who alleged that some senior men within the company had behaved inappropriately towards junior staff and that some people had complained.

The Telegraph is aware of one woman who complained to human resources about the behaviour of a senior buyer, whom it is claimed made comments about her breasts.

It is understood that after complaining, the young woman moved to a different department and subsequently left the organisation.

Some women told The Telegraph that a senior man within the company made them feel uncomfortable by allegedly winking or staring at employees, or “loitering” around in the company’s London headquarters in the evenings. “These girls are far, far his junior,” a source said.

Zehra Hussain, who worked at the company for three years until May 2020, also said that the man at the centre of this claim behaved in a “sleazy” manner, which made her feel uncomfortable.

Ms Hussain also alleged she had complained about sexual harassment at a work event by a man who worked for another firm whom she said made inappropriate comments. She reported the comments to her manager.

Complaints about problematic behaviour have also been made by employees at Asos’s Watford customer care centre.

One woman told The Telegraph she had complained to human resources about how ethnic minority employees did not appear to be able to advance at the company’s customer services division in the same way as white people.

A spokesman for Asos said that they had “robust policies in place” to ensure that staff were protected, but as the work by lawyers was ongoing they could not comment on individual cases concerning headquarters staff.

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