ASOS is one of the biggest online shopping destinations in the world – but just how ethical and sustainable is it today?
Since launching in 2000, the retailer has grown astronomically and now sells over 850 different brands online including Mango, & Other Stories, New Look and Monki, while the company bought Topshop and Miss Selfridge this year too.
READ MORE: Which fabrics are eco-friendly?
It also has its own ranges of clothing, shoes and accessories, including ASOS Collusion, ASOS Design and ASOS Edition, all of which can be delivered to your door in a matter of hours with ASOS’ enticing next day delivery.
Here, we take a closer look at their practises.
Wear Next may receive a small commission if you click a link from one of our articles onto a retail website and make a purchase.
Is ASOS sustainable?
As things stand, 34% of all fibres used in ASOS brands come from sustainable sources. The retailer has a second-hand and vintage clothing section in ASOS Marketplace and in 2010, launched a clothing line called Responsible Edit. With all products made from a minimum of 50% recycled or sustainable fibres and fabrics, and a minimum of 20% of recycled cotton, which use less water and exerts less waste, it’s definitely a more sustainable option.
It has pledged to source 100% of its cotton from sustainable sources by 2025, but at the time of writing, the Responsible Edit only accounted for around 5,000 of the 40,000 own-brand products listed on the website. This equates to around one fifth of their products.
While this is a positive step, ASOS still have a lot more work to do when it comes to sustainable materials.
ASOS has mapped its carbon footprint, identifying that 91% of their emissions come from transportation and the delivery of goods.
READ MORE: How to spot greenwashing
It’s now working to use more efficient methods of transportation, including the use of electric vans in London’s low-emission zone and local fulfilment centres. The second largest percentage of their carbon footprint comes from emissions from buildings.
To reduce this, ASOS sites based in the UK use 25% renewable energy and energy efficient LED lights have been installed in its warehouses.
It has also reduced the thickness of its mailing bags, which saves 583 tonnes of plastic every year. ASOS recycle the bags on return and make new bags with 10% post-consumer waste content, which decreases virgin plastic usage by 160 tonnes annually.
The brand’s chief executive shared in September 2021 that ASOS are looking to have net zero carbon emissions by 2030. They will also reportedly work on making all of their clothes recyclable by 2027 and upgrade their packaging to become more eco-friendly.
The brand also released a 112-page guide on circular fashion, which it produced in partnership with The Centre for Sustainable Fashion, a research centre based at the London College of Fashion.
The book includes nine strategies that can help brands and designers make their businesses more earth-friendly. There are also guides on zero-waste cutting and creating garments without wasting materials during pattern-cutting that are included in the book.
READ MORE: Is Nasty Gal ethical and sustainable?
Despite the positive steps, it’s also worth mentioning that ASOS is a fast fashion brand. It relies on quick turnaround of designs, from the moment a garment is seen on a catwalk or celebrity, to when a garment is released for sale on ASOS’ website.
Fast fashion can never be sustainable. As well as using materials that damage our environment, the practise encourages consumers to buy an item to wear just a few times and then dispose of it. This may be donating to charity or literally throwing it in the bin, but the majority of the time it ends up in landfill.
The average American is estimated to throw away a staggering 37kg of clothes each year, while in the UK the average lifetime for a garment is estimated at 2.2 years. Naturally, this has a detrimental effect on our environment.
Wrap claim that unused clothing globally is worth around £30 billion, and the value of the clothing that ends up in landfill is a huge £140 million.
READ MORE: Is Primark ethical and sustainable?
For fashion advice and general chit-chat, join our Facebook group What To Wear Next.
Is ASOS ethical?
ASOS received a score of 55% in the Fashion Transparency Index in 2020.
It publishes a detailed list of suppliers in the final stage of production and a little information about the second stage of production online.
It also publishes policies in place to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19, despite originally refusing to pay workers at the start of 2020 regardless of the written contracts they had signed for the work and legally owing payment. Eventually ASOS committed to paying workers after growing external pressure to do so.
Unfortunately almost none of ASOS’ supply chain is certified by labour stands that ensure worker health and safety, living wages and other rights.
According to Good on you, there’s also a serious lack of transparency when it comes to ensuring living wages are paid in its supply chain. While it likely publishes information about supplier policies, audits and remediation process, the Fashion Transparency Index showed that they may be publishing information about forced labour, gender equality or freedom of association – but there’s no guarantee.
The retailer did introduce a new supply chain transparency initiative this year however, which requires all brands sold on ASOS to sign up to four ethical manufacturing pledges. These including signing a transparency pledge, mapping their UK-based supply chains, providing evidence of visibility of their UK-based facilities, and joining Fast Forward – a UK-focussed labour standards audit and improvement programme.
The brand seem to be taking a positive step forward as they shared that they will finally start putting up an annual report on their supply chain starting 2023. The report will include how they fare in terms of wages, modern slavery, and women empowerment.
In September 2021, the brand expressed their intention to ensure that 50% of its managers at all levels are women and 15% are from ethnic minorities by 2030.
ASOS animal welfare policy
For those concerned about animal welfare, the retailer banned all cashmere, mohair, feathers, down silk, bone, teeth, horn and shell from their site in 2019, and they’ve decreased their carbon intensity per customer order for three years running (although they don’t elaborate on this).
However it still uses leather and alpaca without specifying sources at the time of writing.
ASOS have committed to not selling cosmetics that have been tested on animals.
Wear Next Opinion
Wear Next believes it’s important to highlight the negative and unjust practises taking place in the fashion industry. We believe ethics and sustainability are an important talking point to bring about change and we encourage you to contact fashion brands to demand this.
However we understand that sustainable fashion isn’t accessible for every body due to various factors, such as budget and the ability to find confidence-boosting clothes that fit. We will continue to offer you fashion inspiration and guidance to suit every body and budget, while also highlighting the unjust systems at play in the fashion industry.
Would you still shop at ASOS?