Asos is taking another stand against modern slavery.
The British e-tailer announced Thursday a partnership with GoodWeave International, a nonprofit that works to eradicate child, forced and bonded labor in international supply chains.
Asos will kick off the program by onboarding three of its strategic apparel and accessories suppliers in India, where it works with 187 suppliers out of a global total of 1,019 per its 2022 factory list, with more to follow in subsequent months. Each facility will undergo audits and unannounced inspections by dedicated GoodWeave employers who are trained to spot red flags. Products covered under the GoodWeave Standard will appear on the Asos marketplace sometime in late 2023.
The risks of child and adult exploitation are rife in India’s garment industry, which was highlighted in the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2022 list of goods produced by child and forced labor. In December, nine child laborers were rescued from a garment factory in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh following a tip-off to the police.
“To combat this problem and meet the requirements of increased human rights due diligence legislation globally, it’s critical that fashion businesses partner with organizations like GoodWeave to prevent hidden exploitation in outsourced, subcontracted supply chains,” said Nina Smith, CEO at GoodWeave International.
GoodWeave’s “world-leading” approach, the organization said, doesn’t only focus on the final-stage manufacturing facility. It also includes subcontractors and home-based workers who are an often “invisible” source of child, forced and bonded labor. With their low, typically piece-rate wages and lack of social protections, such workers are among the sector’s most exploited.
Adil Rehman, head of ethical trade at Asos, said that GoodWeave’s assessment will strengthen the way the retailer understands and addresses the risks of child labor and modern slavery through auditing and local engagement. It also builds on Asos’s other nonprofit partnerships working in this arena, such as The Centre for Child Rights and Business in China.
Asos has also helped Anti-Slavery International fund the Migrant Resource Centre in Mauritius, which it played a role in establishing after the shuttering of one of its suppliers in 2019 left 180 workers, more than half of them migrants from Bangladesh, stranded without pay, food or adequate shelter. The company worked with labor unions, factory liquidators and Mauritian authorities to repatriate those who wanted to return home and find reemployment for those who wished to remain.
“There can be no place for forced, bonded or child labor in the fashion industry, but these risks are always present within complex global supply chains,” Rehman said. “With this new partnership with GoodWeave, we’re taking our modern slavery and ethical trade work one step further through assurance and deep supply chain mapping, helping us to ensure that workers are protected and their rights respected.”
In 2021, then-CEO Nick Beighton urged British lawmakers to beef up the country’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act by implementing mandatory human rights due diligence that would legally require businesses to mitigate labor risks in their supply chain.
The retailer, Beighton said, was committed to “tackling the root causes of modern slavery” by addressing the impacts of its operations and sought for its brand partners to do the same.
“Companies already have a responsibility to undertake this due diligence under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” he said. “Legislation would make this legally binding by requiring U.K. companies to report on their efforts to mitigate risk and protect people in supply chains globally.”
A few months later, Asos joined 36 companies, investors, business associations and initiatives, including Primark and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre to lobby ministers to “prevent abuse of human rights and environmental harm in global operations and value chains” and “deliver on the government’s commitments to the leveling up agenda and to the transition to a net-zero economy” as it “builds back better.”
Smith said she was excited about what GoodWeave’s partnership with Asos holds.
“For nearly three decades, GoodWeave has advanced working conditions in the rug and textiles sector, and we are proud to be launching this partnership targeted at apparel and accessories supply chains together with Asos,” she said.