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ASOS calls for mandatory human rights due diligence legislation

Lauretta Roberts
28 April 2021

Online fashion giant ASOS has called for the implementation of mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in the UK in order to strengthen the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. The move comes as the group publishes its fifth Modern Slavery Statement.

Such legislation is currently being developed by the European Commission for the EU and ASOS argues that if it is also introduced in the UK it would ensure that companies must "take steps to prevent and mitigate risks and protect vulnerable people within supply chains" in line with their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles.

The legislation would also require businesses to to disclose these actions and be held to account for taking them.

ASOS CEO Nick Beighton has published an article in The Times' Red Box column today explaining why the company would support such legislation to drive up standards, alongside targeted interventions such as a UK garment manufacturer licensing scheme.

ASOS has also become the first fashion company globally to include independent NGO commentary in its Modern Slavery Statement, provided by the oldest international human rights organisation in the world, Anti-Slavery International.

The commentary (available on page 17 of the report which can be read in full here) focuses on Anti-Slavery International’s views on the challenges faced by the fashion industry and garment manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps brands and retailers must take to address modern slavery risks throughout global supply chains. Anti-Slavery International has acted as a "critical friend" and advised ASOS on its modern slavery policies, in-country programme work and practices since 2017.

In its Modern Slavery Statement, ASOS outlines the modern slavery risks identified and actions taken from February 2020 to January 2021, covering the period of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

It also includes the steps taken to ensure UK brand partners sign up to the "Transparency Pledge" and the "Fast Forward" auditing programme, co-founded by ASOS in 2014 to tackle problems with UK garment manufacturing supply chains.

Other key areas of activity featured include the continued operation of the Migrant Resource Centre in Mauritius, currently funded by the UK Home Office’s Modern Slavery Innovation Fund and part of a joint project between ASOS, Anti-Slavery International, IndustriALL Global Union and local affiliates; the publication and distribution of a human rights handbook for workers in Bulgaria with local IndustriALL affiliates; and the steps the company has taken to further strengthen its internal policies and procedures in order to protect workers and support suppliers in complying with its standards.

Beighton said: “We’re proud to have today published our fifth Modern Slavery Statement and to have continued our commitment to transparency, honesty and openness in our reporting. There is absolutely no place for modern slavery in today’s world, and after an incredibly challenging year for the fashion industry and for garment workers worldwide, all companies and brands must now share the risks they have identified and the actions they have taken to ensure we can work together to deliver effective change. We’re incredibly grateful to Anti-Slavery International for providing commentary and constructive challenge for this year’s statement and look forward to continuing our partnership as we seek to drive further change over the years to come.”

Anti-Slavery International CEO Jasmine O’Connor added: “We’re proud to be working with ASOS to encourage the company to make sure its customers can be sure their clothes aren’t tainted by human rights abuses. We welcome ASOS’ call for a new UK law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses. We hope other UK companies across all sectors follow ASOS’ leadership, and that the UK Government responds to the growing calls from civil society, trade unions and business to go beyond the Modern Slavery Act and introduce stronger laws.”

ASOS was one of the signatories of the new Textiles 2030 action plan launched by sustainability charity WRAP on Monday of this week, which sets the UK fashion industry on a path towards net zero carbon. Signatories have also committed to implement circular design and business practices in what has been described as “the most ambitious ten-year programme for clothing and textiles in the world”.

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