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Asos is Getting Serious About Addressing Modern Slavery

Asos has committed to tackling modern slavery, but it might have a long road ahead.

Only 42 percent of the brands it sells currently meet its anti-slavery standards, according to British e-tailer’s latest Modern Slavery Statement, which it released last week. The actual number may be higher, since just 54 percent of all brands have completed a Self-Assessment Questionnaire to help it determine which ones meet its requirements. But this is about to change, Asos insisted.

Last January, Asos established a five-point strategy, overseen by a head of branded responsible sourcing, to ensure that all third-party brands meet its minimum requirements for ethical sourcing. All new brands joining the site, for instance, are now required to implement an Ethical Trade Policy across their supply chains. In addition, they must disclose their Tier 1 (cut, make, trim) factories when required, comply with all the relevant chemical regional regulations and specify an animal-welfare policy if their products contain animal-derived materials. Finally, where applicable, all brands operating in the United Kingdom must publish a Modern Slavery Statement in line with domestic legislation.

“Our five minimum requirements form the core of the strategy, and provide the framework within which we expect third-party brands to begin addressing instances of modern slavery within their supply chains,” Asos said. Legacy brands pre-dating the strategy will require more finessing, though the company is “working toward ensuring that brands which form the largest percentage of our sales meet these requirements by August 2020,” it said.

Asos says it recognizes its minimum requirements are “only the first step” in mitigating the risks of forced labor and worker abuse. “By driving action on transparency and consistently sharing learning and experiences between brands, we hope to create an environment where our industry as a whole, is working collectively, and with Asos to concretely address modern slavery risks,” it said. “In addition, we will continue to champion mandatory minimum requirements for any new brands we bring on board, while stimulating continuous improvement by higher-risk brands.”

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The e-tailer, which recently co-hosted a modern slavery forum at the House of Lords with Baroness Lola Young, is also asking its third-party brands to pledge to actively address modern slavery in various ways, including mapping and assessing areas of vulnerability in their supply chains, developing tools to raise awareness of risks and training relevant employees about risks within their business and supply chains.

“With a growing legislative focus on modern slavery, there’s never been a better time to act together to drive systemic change in the industry,” Nick Beighton, CEO at Asos, said in a statement. “That’s why we’re calling on those present to join us in signing our pledge to tackle modern slavery and move beyond commitment to more concrete action and collaboration.”

Brands that have thrown in their support include Dr. Martens, New Look and River Island. “We are serious about tackling modern slavery so the pledge we have signed continues the work that we have already started with Asos in this area,” said Ben Lewis, CEO of River Island. “We encourage other brands to join us in eradicating human-rights abuses in our supply chains.”

Asos, the United Kingdom’s most-visited online shopping destination, currently stocks more than 1,000 third-party brands, which make up 52 percent of its total business. The rest are designed in-house, branded with the Asos label and manufactured by third-party factories worldwide, which means its battle against modern slavery must be fought on its own front as well.

“As a fast-growing and changing organization, it’s essential that we remain particularly aware of emerging risks and be alert to the dynamic nature of both modern slavery and the impacts of our own operations,” Beighton said. “We will therefore continue to reflect on, develop and extend our approach to modern slavery, both in the breadth of approach across the Responsible Procurement program and Third-Party Brands program, and in the depth of work within Asos Brands product-sourcing regions.”