When you grow as big as the progressive beast that ASOS has become over the years, how much do you care about the issues that matter, that are de riguer, that will shape the future of how the world will look for a long time to come? On paper, or should I say online, its sustainability efforts look extremely impressive. Infact so impressive, an indiscriminate number of boxes are metaphorically being ticked. Are they really though? I was completely taken in and I want to believe in the good of everyone and everything. Especially after the last difficult eighteen months the whole world has lived through and continues to experience – it's not over yet after all. We need hope, optimism and something to believe in.
What has that got to do with a little bit, or a lot of, online retail therapy?
I have often wondered how much these big retailers care about the damage this industry is having on the planet and whether they take any accountability for it. I'm quite certain I'm not alone in these thoughts. Sustainability needs to be at the forefront of every shopping experience whether we want to have to think about that or not.

Sometimes when I look at websites such as ASOS it just feels like chaos and my head is spinning at the thought of where to start. There's a lot going on. And in that moment, I ask myself…is this fast fashion at its worst? Are these big online fashion behemoths just churning everything out to get you to buy, buy, buy even when you don't need it.

If you're subscribed, the incoming emails are regular- especially if you have been browsing. And there is always a new hook or discount to tempt the shopaholic in you. Their marketing is in full force, including the Instagram page which is not unlike the Duracell bunny, and thinks with the mind of the device-ready shopper. The temptation is real.

Shopping online from the comfort of your sofa is convenient and indulgent to say the least – we have had no choice for the last year and a half – and that is if we had the money to spend during that time. Brands that you love to buy all in one place feels that little bit more entitled and let's be honest here…we've quickly got used to the ease of it all. If you ever feel guilty as you fill in those sixteen digits followed by the three-digit security number, think twice before you ease your conscience about the process.
ASOS' sustainability practices

In amongst all the chaos, if you, the consumer, cares and are interested enough to dig a little deeper before pulling out your payment card, you may learn something. holds an impressive amount of information on an easy to find page on Corporate Responsibility – more than I, the mostly discerning consumer, would have given them credit for. I didn't even know where to start; they are deep, detailed and appear to take it very seriously. Before you dash off to take a look for yourselves, here is a taster of their alleged achievements regarding sustainable fashion:
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  • 2008 Established Corporate Responsibility programme
  • 2010 Launched their Fashion with Integrity programme
  • 2012 ASOS became a member of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP)
  • 2019 Banned cashmere, mohair, silk, feathers bone, horn, shell & teeth
  • 36% of all fibres used in ASOS Brands come from sustainable sources
  • 83% more sustainable cotton sourced in 2018
  • 14.6% reduction in the carbon footprint of UK products in 2018 vs 2012
  • 187 employees have participated in sustainability training at the Sustainable Fashion Academy
  • >10,000 products listed through the responsible edit, their sustainable fashion platform.
This information does not even touch the sides of what is available for anyone to read in terms of each detailed area of clothing sustainability that ASOS is involved in and supports. This could very easily have turned into a longer article.

Apparently, not only are they taking care to do the work on their own products, they allege to be involved with and influence the third party brands they support on their site – the seasoned shopper will know there are countless and growing in number. They have a dedicated Third-Party Brands team that "support the more than 1000 brands sold on on a journey towards implementing best practice ethical trade and sustainability programmes".

ASOS claims to be completely behind the need to improve ethical trade and sustainability standards by refining conditions for workers and animals in supply chains as well as consciously changing textiles and manufacturing processes that have better environmental footprints. There are requirements they have put in place based on the following criteria:

  • Brands to have an Ethical Trade Policy which is implemented across their supply chain
  • Brands to have Transparency of 'Tier 1" (Cut Make Trim) factories, and be willing to share a factory list with ASOS if required
  • Brands to comply with all the relevant chemical regional regulations in the countries we retail in
  • All brands whose products contain any animal products to have an Animal Welfare Policy
  • Where applicable, for all brands operating in the UK to publish a Modern Slavery Statement.
In addition, according to their website, ASOS has produced a detailed four pillar Third-Party Brand Programme to cover all aspects of the process further supporting their commitment to drive systemic change. It should be comforting to know that they are principled, and that sustainable shopping does not have to come with an unaffordable price tag. As long as it is not lip service.
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But is ASOS greenwashing?

The one big thorn in my side niggling away relentlessly is the lack of clarity around whether unsustainable third party products on the website are continuing to be sold by ASOS indefinitely. Considering ASOS launched their Corporate Responsibility Programme in 2008 and has been a member of SCAP since 2012, how is the majority of their stock still not sustainable? Will that undermine the good work the company declares it has already put in over the years? Sustainability is not just 'de rigeur' afterall, it is fast becoming an essential way of life.

Ask yourself this before you press 'confirm payment'. Is ASOS doing enough to support sustainability and responsible shopping? They have been around long enough for that answer to be yes but, as mentioned earlier, with the often multiple sales on their site (and the fact that their Sale page is highlighted in red on the main page), they make it hard for the customer, whether returning or new, to turn away. Is that responsible, or simply promoting over-consumption?

Plus, how do we know that ASOS ensures all of their workers are paid a living wage at the moment? According to Fashion Checker it would appear not. Living wages are not expensive to provide – roughly 10p more per t-shirt. When we think about how much the price of items drop in sales, two things become completely clear 1) the markup was really high to begin with and 2) they can afford to drop prices drastically and still make a profit thereby suggesting they can pay fair wages too. Food for thought.

If your basket is still full; I do wholeheartedly encourage a more considered approach – replace items only as you need to thereby avoid unnecessary purchasing and be certain of sizing to minimise returns. Be as accountable as the brands that you buy; we can all take more responsibility over the shopping choices we make.

*All facts sourced from Corporate Responsibility information pages.
Article by Rupi Sago
Main image from Charles Deluvio