Asos, Global Retailer

overall rating:

1.25

planets

Ella Tescari
8/9/2021
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Asos, the well-known British international retailer, has recently made many commitments regarding sustainability and ethics, ranging from labour practices and raw material sourcing to animal welfare. Thus, the global retailer seems on the way to positive change towards more sustainable practices. However, with more than 2000 new products released every week, Asos remains a pure product of fast fashion, which relies on quick turnaround of design – which by definition is antithetical to sustainability. Additionally, Asos’ improvement in carbon emissions pollution per metric ton of clothing sold has been offset by the increase in sales, resulting in an overall higher level. This is one example of its mitigated environmental and ethical record, which ultimately led me to revise the grade downwards despite recent improvements.

What it's made of:

1

As an international retailer, Asos sells over 850 different brands online. It also has its own range of clothing. While the retailer was singled out in the 2010s for its practices, it launched a clothing line in 2010 called Responsible Edit. All the line’s products are made with a minimum of 20% of recycled cotton and 50% recycled or sustainable fabrics for other materials. However, they still only make for one-fifth of the retailer’s own-brand products. On the bright side, by signing up for the 2025 Sustainable Sourcing Challenge, it pledged to source 100% of its cotton from sustainable sources by 2025. Regarding animal welfare, ASOS banned all cashmere, mohair, feathers, down silk, bone, teeth, horn, and shell from their site in 2019. It also committed to not selling cosmetics tested on animals. If these commitments are honorable, the very concept of the company, i.e. to produce a large number of new designs every week, is incompatible with the principles of sustainability. 

How it's made:

1.5

Asos is currently working on evaluating the full impact of its supply chain, notably through mapping its suppliers of raw materials. It is regularly audited and monitored to ensure compliance with the Ethical Trade Initiative, which it joined in 2009. When ASOS mapped its carbon footprint, it found out that 91% of its emissions come from transportation and delivery while 4%, the second-largest percentage, corresponds to emissions from buildings. In light of these findings, ASOS has taken initiatives such as using 25% renewable energy in the UK, installing energy-efficient LED in the warehouses and building new local fulfilment centres to reduce delivery distances. Additionally, Asos reduced the thickness of its mailing bags, which allows saving 583 tones of plastic per year. It would be good to have Asos take this commitment further. Though Asos’ carbon emissions have decreased by 14,6% per metric ton of clothing sold, its overall carbon emissions output increased between 2012 and 2018 due to the growth in sales. Thus, its high CO2 overall output remains very high, mitigating significantly its eco-friendly record. In other words, while the increase in sales is a positive sign of success for Asos, it only means that twice as much effort must be invested in reducing its carbon footprint. Also, same and next day shipping might be a significant part of Asos competitive advantage but involves negative environmental consequences.

Who makes it:

1.25

Asos has been growing ever since its launching in 2000, recently buying flagship fashion companies like Topshop and Miss Selfridge. As recently as 2020, it was under fire for forcing workers into crowded UK warehouses in the midst of the pandemic, accusations that the global retailor has denied. Moreover, along with other major companies, Asos refused to pay oversees suppliers for more than $16bn in goods, leaving overseas suppliers unable to pay garment workers. As for 2021, Asos’ supplier facilities are mainly located in China, followed by India and Turkey. On the bright side, Asos has been praised for stopping photoshopping its models – keeping it real while showing body “imperfections” such as veins or stretch marks. Moreover, it launched a clothing line inclusive for disabled people as well as another that suits those with larger breasts. Also, Asos ranked amongst the highest of 200 top tier global brands in the Fashion Transparency Index, a significant contrast with its very low scores back in the 2010s. This improvement can be attributed to its detailed list of suppliers as well as information about policies and procedures or environmental and social goals. Thus, Asos seem to be responsive to external scrutiny. Nonetheless, this kind of validation musn’t discourage further positive changes.