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With Boohoo Under Fire, Asos Raises Supplier Standards

On the heels of allegations of employee exploitation against its now suspended supplier Boohoo, Asos is raising the transparency bar for its third-party brands.

In 2018, the British fast-fashion e-tailer asked vendors to comply with five ethical requirements by 2020. Now, Asos is requiring brand partners that manufacture in the United Kingdom to make four additional commitments to bring their efforts in line with Asos’ own guarantees. Asos produces private-label goods, but about 60 percent of its merchandise comes from third-party brands, making vendor operations a significant component of the company’s sustainability footprint.

By the end of the year, suppliers will need to sign the Transparency Pledge, which requires signatories to publicly list all of the factories within the manufacturing phase of their supply chains on a regular basis. Created by nine human rights and labor organizations, the pledge aims to standardize these disclosures.

Beyond participating in the Transparency Pledge, the brands will need to show Asos that they have mapped their U.K. supply chain and provide evidence that they have visibility into their manufacturing in the nation.

Asos is also asking vendors to identify supply-chain risks and plan ways to mitigate them. If needed, the suppliers will be expected to alert Asos so the retailer can help them arrive at a solution.

Finally, brands will have to use the Fast Forward auditing program, which can uncover hidden worker exploitation such as forced labor. Companies need to also commit to fixing any problems discovered through the audit.

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These guidelines go above the existing expectations for Asos’ brand partners. As part of the retailer’s previously set five minimum requirements, vendors are supposed to have transparent tier one suppliers and if necessary provide a list of cut-and-sew facilities to Asos. Suppliers are also expected to have a Modern Slavery Act statement if they operate in the U.K., as well as an ethical trade policy. If they sell animal-derived products, brands must establish an animal-welfare policy. Labels must also comply with chemical regulations stipulated by the countries in which Asos retails.

“When we launched our third-party brand engagement program at the start of 2018, we set out five minimum requirements that we wanted the brands we sold on site to sign up to by 2020,” Asos CEO Nick Beighton said in a statement. “We’ve been working hard to support our brand partners to achieve this aim, and with the target now in sight, we want to be even more ambitious—and ask those brands that manufacture in the U.K. to bring their supply chains in line with our own, if they are not already. We believe the four commitments we have set out this week are critical enablers to improving sourcing standards across the U.K.”

As an existing participant in the Transparency Pledge and Fast Forward, Asos will provide support for its vendors to make these additional commitments. As part of the process, Asos will be hosting a workshop for its suppliers this September with Fast Forward.

This latest evolution in Asos’ third-party brands program comes after the retailer broke ties with Boohoo over claims of sweatshop-style conditions in its Leicester factory. According to a report, Boohoo pressured suppliers to work during the coronavirus lockdown in unsafe conditions. Allegedly, the factories were not taking precautionary measures such as enforcing social distancing, ensuring workers wear protective equipment and sanitizing facilities. Asos’ suspension of Boohoo is said to be pending the results of an investigation into practices in its supply chain.

While Asos is currently focusing on its vendors that produce in the U.K., the retailer says it plans to expand the social sustainability program in the coming months.