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ABOUT THE BRAND

ASOS (As Seen On Screen) is an online global fashion destination for millennials, mainly 20-somethings. With the tagline Great Fashion at a Great Price, ASOS sells a mix of its own label collection and over 850 global and local brands, it has a marketplace channel for both new and pre-worn items and also offers a wide variety of fashion-related content through its website via both mobile and web. ASOS introduces over 4000 new items each week, and is based in the United  Kingdom.

HIGHLIGHTS

THE PROS:

🔍 ASOS’ Ethical Trade team ensures new suppliers and manufacturers are selected based on ethical as well as commercial performance indicators, and the brand states it works directly with suppliers and factories to improve working conditions.

♻️ The brand dedicates part of its website, The Eco Edit, to selling sustainable fashion and beauty goods. Items sold in the Eco Edit satisfy the principles of at least one of the following criteria: building communities, developing fair trade and alleviating poverty, preserving craftsmanship and artisanal skills, addressing climate change challenges, preserving natural resources, removing waste, advancing animal welfare.

♻️ According to The Guardian in 2013, ASOS had been verified as the first online retailer to be carbon neutral.

THE CONS:

💪🏼 In April 2015, VICE reported that numerous former workers and unions compared the ASOS warehouse to a modern-day sweatshop. “The employees told VICE News they are exhausted by the demands of a bullying targets regime and a “flex” system, in which shifts are worked according to demand. Staff are told to work with just two hours’ notice and to go home when they are not needed.”

🔍 The brand’s business strategy includes aiming for a faster supply chain so it can deliver the right fashion, at the right price at the right time.

💪🏼 ASOS has not signed the Responsible Sourcing Network’s Cotton Pledge. In 2016, the brand sourced 38% of its cotton from more sustainable sources, including BCI and CMiA cotton. It is unclear where the balance of this cotton was sourced.

/ ASOS, originally known as As Seen On Screen, operates exclusively online.

/ The brand works with 191 tier 1&2 suppliers who collectively use 534 factories located in 27 countries around the world. Tier 1 covers cut, make and trim factories, and tier 2 covers stitching, cutting, packing, quality control, and warehousing subcontractors.

As of June 2017, the brand states there are 105,180 workers employed in its supply chain. It is unclear what levels this applies to. ASOS has calculated this figure from data captured during factory visits.

/ In the year ending 31 August 2016, ASOS reported retail sales of £1,403.7m (approximately US$1,787.8m) – an increase of 26% on 2015.

/ ASOS reports that it stocks more than 85,000 products, of which 56% are branded, and 44% own brand product. ASOS adds 4,000 new lines every week.

/ ASOS states that it takes 6 weeks to produce a garment, “from sketch to site”.

/ The brand’s business strategy includes aiming for a faster supply chain so it can deliver the right fashion, at the right price at the right time.

/ ASOS reports that it sources its products from 27 countries around the world. 88% of the factories making its products are located in China, Eastern Europe, India, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The brand has published a Sourcing Map on its website, which shows number of tier 1 factories and worker breakdown by country. ASOS has also published its factory list, including supplier names and addresses, which it states will be updated every 2 months. ASOS states that it is in the process of mapping its supply chain beyond factory level.

ASOS Made in Kenya is sold under the Eco Edit platform. The brand states that the collection is designed in-house and manufactured by SOKO, a workshop that provides fair and safe employment and training for its workers in Kenya.

/ The 2017 Fashion Transparency Index gave ASOS an overall score of 33%, with the brand scoring in the lower percentiles for both the Traceability and the Know, Show and Fix sections.

If a product meets any of the following criteria, it is eligible to be shown on the Eco Edit: lower environmental impact materials and processes; recycled / upcycled materials; sustainable cotton; small-scale manufacturing in Africa; handmade / handwoven; made by artisans / craftspeople; made under fair-trade principles; vintage; natural ingredients; parabens free; organic ingredients.

/ In June 2017, Changing Markets released a report into the global impacts of viscose production. It was reported viscose makes up 14% of the brands textile products, and at the date of the report ASOS was able to trace 57% of its viscose to 2 companies – Aditya Birla or Lenzing, with facilities located in Austria, China, India and Indonesia. Both suppliers are part of the Canopy commitment. The report found that ASOS is sourcing from two polluting companies in India and Indonesia, and noted that the brand themselves are currently trying to ascertain where their viscose is sourced.

 

The brand has an Ethical Trade programme which has 3 key documents that set out the standards it expects its suppliers to meet, and its own responsibilities:

In 2014, that brand stated that it planned to pilot a living wage project in 3 key factories by 2017. We have no information on ASOS’ progress towards meeting this target.

ASOS has been a member of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), an alliance of companies, trade unions, and NGOs that promotes worker’s rights around the globe, since 2009. It participates in 6 working groups in the ETI.

In June 2016, the brand began conducting unannounced audits at its supplier factories and states that all inspections at factories in its main sourcing regions will now be unannounced.

The brand reports that it has held conferences and workshops around the world for 76 supplier companies in China, Mauritius, Turkey and the UK to support them in achieving its sustainable sourcing and ethical trade principles and targets.

ASOS states that it understands that its commercial actions have a direct impact on its suppliers’ ability to meet its standards, so it reviews ASOS purchasing practices each year in an effort to identify ways to strengthen its supplier relationships.

On 6 June, 2016, Morningstar Online reported that thousands of workers at an ASOS distribution center in Yorkshire were being subjected to a range of abuse by their anti-union bosses, and that workers are subjected to “flexi” shifts where they can be told not to turn in for work, or to work extra hours without notice.

 

ASOS uses a range of sustainable materials in its own-brand products including organic cotton, tencel and modal

ASOS states that some of the cotton it sources is Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), and that in 2016, 38% of its cotton was ‘more sustainable’. The brand began working with CmiA in February 2016 and states that some of its denim ranges now carry the CMiA tag. At the time of research, we could not find any products listed as being made from BCI or from CMiA cotton.

The brand shares its animal welfare policy, which bans products containing angora or fur. ASOS states it follows industry recognised standards to ensure that animals are afforded their 5 freedoms.

ASOS has been a member of the Leather Working Group (LWG) since 2014 and has been working to map its leather supply chain and identify opportunities to reduce its environmental impact. It is also a member of the WWF Ganges Leather Buyers Platform, made up of major European leather buyers who are working to coordinate action to address water challenges in Kanpur, India, the most significant of which is water pollution.

The brand’s Supplier Ethical Code outlines areas the brand’s suppliers must assess and manage, including waste management, energy reduction, wastewater treatment and hazardous substances. ASOS states it is the supplier’s responsibility to ensure that any factories used by the Supplier adheres to its requirements. It is unclear if the brand monitors the environmental impact of its supply chain.

The brand reports that denim is a priority area in which it is working to reduce its water use and that it is working with its suppliers to encourage them to use methods that use less water and chemicals, such as ozone and enzyme finishing. To date, it has worked with 8 of its suppliers, with 2 of these leading on adopting alternative practices.  

/ The brand is working with its suppliers to ensure that its products containing leather meet the requirements of REACH Chrome VI regulations. It reports that it regularly tests all of its own-label leather items to check suppliers are meeting these requirements and that it is educating its suppliers on how to reduce the formation of this chemical at the source of production.

 

The brand has a target to include 95% more sustainable cotton in its own-brand ranges by 2020. It reports that 2016 autumn/winter collection contained 40%.

ASOS has partnered with Canopy and is working to ensure its cellulosic fibre (rayon, viscose and lyocell) is not sourced from ancient or endangered forests in 2017, and ensuring any wood used in its products and operations is FSC certified or traceable in 2017.

The brand states that it wants to increase its use of recycled materials in its ranges. We have no further information on this.

Through its membership of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), ASOS aims to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprint of its own-brand clothing by 15% by 2020.

ASOS reports that it is reviewing opportunities to increase the physical durability of its clothing, such as reversible-clothing for multi-styling.

The brand has set a commitment for 2016-17 to extend its UK whistleblowing helpline to cover all ASOS brand sourcing regions in relevant languages.

ASOS community efforts all revolve around creating opportunities for young adults to ‘be their best’ and achieve their potential. Its programs are focused on three geographies; UK, India, and Kenya

The brand has an independent foundation, the ASOS Foundation, which provides opportunities for young people to transform their lives. Funded by ASOS, it is also the focus for its colleagues’ charitable fundraising activities. ASOS employees raised £384,556 (approximately US$493,808) for the ASOS Foundation in the financial years 2015 and 2016.

The brand delivered sewing, technical and management training to SOKO employees and to the local community where SOKO, its ASOS Kenya manufacturer, is based so that it can build SOKO’s capacity and extend the ASOS Kenya range.

In June 2014, in partnership with the SOKO Community Trust, ASOS launched its Stitching Academy Kenya, a 2 month course teaching advanced, export-standard tailoring skills. The Academy will run 4 courses every year for 10 tailors.

ASOS has partnered with anti-bullying charity, The Diana Award, in the United Kingdom on its #MySenseOfSelf campaign, a set of teaching resources designed to open up discussions for young people about self-esteem and body confidence issues.

In January 2017, GMB union reports that ASOS CEO, Nick Beighton, made nearly £3 million (approximately US$3.8 million) per year, taking into account his bonus, shares and pension plan.

On 2 June, 2016, Teen Vogue reported that ASOS had sent out jeans that were extremely long in length.

On 7 April, 2016, ASOS announced it would discontinue its local China operations and continue to serve its customer base from its .com platform.

In September 2016, The Guardian reported that ASOS had been forced to pay out more than £20m to two European retailers due to an alleged infringement of the trademarks on their names. The deal will allow ASOS to start selling athletic leisurewear, a growing segment of the youth fashion market, however, it will be restricted from selling cyclewear and opening shops in Germany.

In August 2016, Business of Fashion reported that UK opposition Labour Party leadership candidate Owen Smith called for an inquiry into working practices at ASOS, after talks with unions left him concerned with practices at the retailer’s distribution centre in Barnsley.

According to The Guardian in 2013, ASOS has been verified as the first online retailer to be carbon neutral.   

The brand sells vintage items through its ASOS Marketplace.

ASOS relaunched its Green Room as the Eco Edit, where it sells products it classifies as sustainable from 45 brands. Products must contain 50% sustainable fibre to qualify and also support at least one of the brands People or Environment criteria.

VOICES

SARAH BUTLER | THE GUARDIAN

“Online retailer Asos is backing the expansion of a training programme designed to rebuild skills in the UK clothing manufacturing industry amid hopes that retailers are “reshoring” more orders.”- 5/28/2014

 


FORMER ASOS WAREHOUSE EMPLOYEE | VICE NEWS

“You have got to do it; there is no excuse. They didn’t treat us like humans. I was under the impression that if you joined a union then you would get the sack. I was too scared.” – 4/2/2015

 

MARIA HOLLINS, RETAIL DIRECTOR | ASOS WEBSITE

Ethical trade is central to our sourcing strategy. We’re building strong, open relationships with our suppliers, encouraging transparency, demonstrating how good working conditions can benefit our suppliers’ business, and investing in projects to put worker/management dialogue centre stage. At the same time we’re taking a regular, critical look at our own business practice and making changes to ensure we are supporting and not hindering our suppliers as they strive to make improvements.”

NICK BEIGHTON, CEO | ASOS WEBSITE

I’m determined to promote a culture internally where it is 100% clear to everyone that we don’t chase margin at the expense of workers in our factories.