By Nick Beighton, CEO, ASOS
18 October 2020
The responsibility for tackling modern slavery rests with all of us. That is the overwhelming message of Anti-Slavery Day, which is marked every year on this day, 18th October. It’s a message that should resonate with everyone, but particularly those of us in the fashion industry whose work in this space has rightly come under the spotlight in recent months.
ASOS has long been committed to the fight against modern slavery. We’ve been working with Anti-Slavery International, which acts as our ‘critical friend’ and interrogates and advises on our modern slavery work, since 2017. And since the UK’s Modern Slavery Act was enacted in 2015, we’ve published four detailed and transparent modern slavery statements (all of which can be read here), uncovering the issues that we’ve identified, the steps that we’ve put in place to address them, and the work that is still to be done.
We’ve also been grateful for the opportunity to contribute our thoughts on strengthening of modern slavery legislation to governments around the world, including in Australia, France, and in the UK, where our evidence was included in the Government response as part of the Home Office’s Transparency In Supply Chains consultation.
Unfortunately, as the last few months have shown, the modern slavery risks facing the global fashion industry are endemic and deep-rooted. If we are to achieve real, lasting change, the industry collectively needs to accelerate its efforts to eradicate modern slavery, wherever it might exist. Collaboration is critical to solve the problems we face today, and those we will encounter in the future.
The Anti-Slavery Charter
Sets out basic measures that organisations must take to end slavery
ASOS is uniquely positioned to facilitate and foster that collaboration. As a multi-brand retailer, our platform is home to around 850 other brands outside ASOS at any one time; those brands account for approximately 60% of our business. That means we can play a key role in encouraging, educating and engaging other brands who are perhaps newer to the industry on the topics at hand. It also means we can bring some of the industry’s most established brands and retailers together so that we can learn from the best and discuss how to deliver change on a collective basis.
Since the start of 2018, we’ve had a programme of work dedicated to working together with our brand partners on these issues. As well as asking brands to meet our Five Minimum Requirements on sustainability and ethical trade, we’ve delivered formal training for smaller brands, for example workshops on how to create and publish a modern slavery statement, and we’ve held events bringing the industry together. In February 2018, we held an event in collaboration with the British High Commission in Mauritius to address the issue of modern slavery on the island; back in the UK, we’ve hosted a CEO forum at the House of Lords, targeting brands that form a large percentage of our sales to ensure that they have published a good quality, detailed Modern Slavery Statement.
Most recently, in September 2020 we hosted an event bringing together more than 40 of our partner brands to talk them through our latest requirements for brands with UK manufacturing, which include signing the Transparency Pledge – through which they will be required to regularly and publicly disclose their supply chain – and implementing Fast Forward, an audit methodology we co-founded in 2014 to address issues in the UK fashion manufacturing industry. We’re committed to supporting our UK brand partners throughout this process as they work to meet our requirements over the coming months, and we’ve already seen encouraging results, with several brands signing the Pledge since we launched the initiative.
This brings us to today, and our announcement that we’ve affirmed our commitment to tackling modern slavery risks wherever we find them by signing the Anti-Slavery International Charter. By doing so, we are committing to use our power to stand up for those who are vulnerable to slavery, to advance emancipation, and to promote access to decent work. The Charter provides a blueprint for fundamental, widespread change that can help us truly address not just modern slavery, but the issues that contribute to it.
Critically, signing the Charter is not a quick fix; nor is it a promise that is easy to fulfil. It will require diligent work and full transparency, to shine a light on the dark corners where exploitation might occur. Our promise is to keep tracing our supply chain to as granular a level as possible so we have full visibility of the journey each of our products take from farm to customer, and to continue publishing this regularly, as we do with our global factory list for tiers 1-3 of our supply chain. We’ll continue to publish a detailed, open and clear modern slavery statement each year, that helps external stakeholders and partners – as well as ourselves – understand where our own dark corners might lie. And we’ll continue to work with our brand partners and colleagues throughout the industry, as well as NGOs like Anti-Slavery International, to ensure we’re all working together to realise the changes we want to see.