Love it or hate it, ASOS is a huge part of UK fashion. Over the past 20 years, British company ASOS has become one of the most popular places to shop online. Supplying over 850 different brands, you can find almost anything you need at a price that seems too good to be true. But is it?
It’s hard to pass up cheap and affordable fashion, particularly when it’s delivered to your door and can be returned without question. The concern is that cheap fast fashion often means questionable labour policies, undesirable production practices and an attitude towards the environment that is lacking any concern.
Yet according to YouGov, 60% of ASOS customers are more likely to try to only purchase from companies who are socially and environmentally responsible, higher than the average Brit, of whom only 49% admit to trying to choose conscious alternatives.
With over two thirds (65%) of ASOS’s customers claiming to be happy to pay more for products that are good for the environment, are ASOS capitalizing on a new responsible trend?
The results are more impressive than you might think...
The environment is fundamental to ASOS’s roadmap to becoming a sustainable clothing company. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, they pledged to reduce the environmental impact of their business and help transition fashion to a more sustainable future.
ASOS has taken steps to reduce its environmental impact across it’s facilities and distribution network here in the UK, and more recently has made significant progress in improving the sustainability of its clothing supplier base.
The brand has publicly committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, using renewables at a number of sites and now offers a full range of sustainable garments for both men and women.
Asos’s environmental achievements in 2020 are impressive. In an effort to increase transparency and understand their environmental impact, ASOS have mapped their carbon footprint and identified that 91% of emissions are produced during the transportation and delivery of goods.
To minimize this, ASOS are working with suppliers to find more efficient methods of transportation, have built new local fulfilment centres to reduce delivery distances, and have introduced electric vehicles in London’s low-emission zone.
Emissions from buildings forms the second largest portion of their carbon footprint at 4%. In a move to make their UK operations more energy efficient, UK sites now use 25% renewable energy and 10,000 energy efficient LED lights have been installed through their warehouses.
Acknowledging that single use plastic and waste is a serious problem, ASOS have reduced the thickness of their mailing bags, saving approximately 583 tonnes of plastic per year.
By also recycling customer return mailing bags, new bags are made with 10% post-consumer waste content, decreasing virgin plastic usage by approximately 160 tonnes annually.
ASOS has a number of sustainable brands now selling on their platform, champion reused and vintage clothing on ASOS Marketplace, and have released their own ‘Eco Edit’ collection.
Their Eco Edit products must contain a minimum of 50% recycled or sustainable fibres, except for recycled cotton where a minimum of 20% is required. Suppliers must also provide relevant validations or certifications to confirm compliance with their responsible edit criteria.
This responsible range has exploded in size over recent years, previously offering a fairly limited selection but now providing a full range of both men and women’s clothing. ASOS have even added a responsible filter to their search platform, providing the consumer with the option to always shop sustainably.
Raw materials are becoming more important to ASOS as they grow their sustainable product offering.
Unable to improve what they don’t understand and in a bid to increase transparency, they are working hard to analyse the full impact of their supply chain, aiming to map their suppliers of cotton, viscose and leather in the near future.
Determined to do more for the environment, ASOS is attempting to collaborate with brands to encourage supply chain transparency and promote sustainable fibre goals.
This is enabling ASOS to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint, limit chemical and pesticide usage, prevent deforestation and protect fresh water and biodiversity.
Along with 35 other brands, ASOS have signed up to the 2025 Sustainable Sourcing Challenge, pledging to source 100% of their cotton from sustainable sources by 2025.
Over the course of just 1 year between 2017 and 2018, ASOS has reduced their carbon footprint by 10%, yet there is still a lot more to be done before they can claim to be a truly sustainable business.
Although carbon emissions have reduced by 14.6% per metric tonne of clothing sold, it is still high and their overall CO2 output has actually increased due to growth in sales between 2012 and 2018.
Sustainable fabrics are now providing an alternative, but at a higher price point and in reduced variation compared to non-sustainable items. Even the fabrics used in the eco-edit alternatives are not created equal, something that ASOS fails to explain to the customer.
However, as a member of the Global Fashion Agenda aiming to transition fashion towards a circular economy, there is no doubt that in 2020 ASOS are well on their way to becoming a sustainably conscious clothing company.
Since receiving the Ethical Consumer’s worst rating in 2011 for supply chain management, ASOS has made considerable improvements in its attitude towards ethical clothing manufacturing. In doing so, it has set a standard for other large retailers to do the same.
Now seen as a top tier ethical fashion brand by the Ethical Consumer, ASOS seems determined to challenge those less conscious to focus on issues such as living wages and working conditions throughout supply chains.
It has brought its Code of Conduct in line with the Ethical Trading Initiative’s base code, and in 2018 published a full list of its suppliers after a call for greater transparency in the fashion industry.
ASOS is regularly monitored and audited to ensure it follows guidelines set out by the Ethical Trade Initiative, which it has been a member of since 2009. This initiative promotes respect for workers’ rights, and maintains a baseline which ASOS must hit to remain a member.
ASOS’s ethical audit methodology is designed to encourage transparency as well as compliance with their Supplier Ethical Code, Child Labour Remediation and Young Worker Policy, and Migrant and Contract Worker Policy.
690 audits were conducted between September 2018 and August 2019, almost all of which were unannounced to give a realistic picture of actual working conditions. These audits are not intended to catch suppliers out, their purpose is to help suppliers improve conditions by offering guidance on difficult issues.
All workers in ASOS’s supply chain are entitled to a living wage which meets the basic needs of themselves and their families, including some discretionary income.
Understanding that it may be hard for workers to negotiate, ASOS actively participates in the ACT initiative and have signed the Memorandum of Understanding that commits ASOS with others in the sector to improve wages.
ASOS has achieved ‘maturing’ status by the Platform for Living Wage Financials, recognition that the payment of a living wage is a salient issue and processes have been established to address areas of high risk.
ASOS has been recognised in the UK for becoming the first online retailer to sign the Global Framework Agreement with IndustriALL. This puts in place the highest standards of trade union rights, health, safety and environmental practices, as well as quality of work principles across the company’s global operations, regardless of whether those standards exist in an individual country.
The Fashion Transparency Index has classed ASOS amongst the highest of 200 top tier global brands. This is due to their transparent and detailed list of suppliers, as well as processing facilities and manufacturers.
In addition, ASOS also publish detailed information about their policies and procedures, social and environmental goals, as well as supplier assessments and remediation processes.
Rather than refusing to work with suppliers who fail to pass their agreed principles, they offer education and support to help transition manufacturers towards more ethical working practices.
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a not-for-profit organisation that advances the need for more sustainable and ethical cotton.
In 2018, 83% more BCI cotton was used in ASOS’s own brand products, helping to increase global demand for cotton produced fairly and sustainably. ASOS has set itself the target of sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton for its brands’ ranges by 2025.
ASOS acknowledges that there is still more work to be done before it can consider itself a truly ethical retailer.
It is working hard to map those who supply the raw materials used in the manufacture of their clothing, a significant part of the supply chain which potentially has one of the most damaging consequences on both the environment and workers rights. Yet by mapping this fully, ASOS will soon understand where they must focus.
Read more on ASOS’s ethics.
ASOS has a positive animal welfare policy and are committed to selling no cosmetics that have been tested on animals.
Angora furs (rabbit), cashmere, mohair, silk, feathers bone, horn, shell, teeth, and wool from mulesed sheep have all been banned from the retailer.
However, there are a range of materials which are still sold on the site, such as leather and plastic derived leather alternatives, unsustainable cotton, and intensively produced viscose.
ASOS has made significant headway towards becoming a sustainable and ethical retailer.
It is setting an impressive trend that other large manufacturers would do well to emulate, both in fashion and the wider consumer marketplace. Ultimately ASOS shows that a business focused on improving their sustainable and ethical attitude towards retail can still be profitable.
Coming from such a low base just a decade ago, we at Cariki are very impressed by the progress that has been made over the past 10 years. However, there is still much more to do until we can consider ASOS a truly sustainable brand.
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