ASOS is one of the leading fast fashion companies in the world. Why? Largely because they are a convenient quick-stop shopping experience.
ASOS supplies a range of products from men’s shorts to women’s shoes, and they even have a lifestyle department. All of which come in almost every color, size, and style imaginable.
Not only that, but ASOS has been gaining a larger following through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. There’s no doubt that ASOS has built a successful business model, but did ASOS build a sustainable one?
How We Evaluate Clothing Brands
At Eco-Stylist, we do our best to review your favorite brands as honestly as we can. To do this we spend a lot of our time researching those brands and their commitment (or lack thereof) to building a more sustainable, ethical, and all around better world.
We use three main categories in order to award points to a brand: Transparency, Fair Labor, and Sustainably Made. We also award eight points to a brand for their commitment to leadership, diversity, and inclusion (LDI). You can learn more about our criteria here.
So, how sustainable is ASOS?
The Results: ASOS Sustainability Score
A brand can be awarded up to 14 points within our transparency category, let’s break that down for ASOS.
Starting off, ASOS does provide a sourcing map and a list of their factories on their website that shows where products are made. This is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, ASOS falls short in this category because they do not share any information about the actual conditions of the factories, how the workers are treated, or any information about their factories prior to the production sites.
Now, you might be wondering, why is this important? Not divulging this kind of information could mean that they are not treating their workers fairly. On top of this, there is no way of knowing where the materials are coming from or how they are being made.
The Transparency category includes subcontracting — subcontracting is when a company like ASOS hires a factory to do work, and that factory, in turn, hires people outside of the factory to do that work. The problem with this is that subcontractors usually do their work from home and are paid even less than the factory workers.
This is a recipe for slave labor and most fast fashion companies do this! The issue with subcontracting stems from the fact that the company cannot ensure that those workers are being treated fairly and working in safe environments. ASOS does acknowledge that there is in fact a problem with subcontracting, but they do not go on to say how they are working towards fixing this issue within their brand.
Last up is the promotion of human rights and environmental sustainability, which ASOS does do. ASOS has implemented a global framework agreement and works with IndustriALL (a global union) as a form of intent towards the well-being of their employees.
Fair Labor: 5/33
A brand can be awarded up to 33 points in the fair labor portion of our criteria. Let’s get into it.
First, we consider if the company has a code of conduct available for the public to access, and ASOS does. It is located on their brand page and outlines all of their policies for their employees.
ASOS also assesses all of their first-tier facilities regularly to ensure the safety of their employees, which means that they are aware of the conditions that their makers are working in on a day-to-day basis. In summary, ASOS does work closely with their stakeholders in order to work towards creating a more ethical workplace environment for their employees.
However, this is where their efforts end when it comes to fair labor. They do not share knowledge of any human rights violations that their employees may face, they do not pay their employees living wages, and they do not have any programs in place or plans to implement programs to promote the well-being of their employees.
Unfortunately, while ASOS talks a big game when it comes to caring about their employees, they have not actually done anything in order to help them. What’s more concerning as a consumer (at least to us) is that ASOS is a leading brand in fast fashion, they have the funds to support their employees in a way that matters and yet, they don’t.
Sustainably Made: 8/45
This category is worth the most points in our criteria and adds up to a whopping 45 points.
Let’s start with what ASOS isn’t doing, and yikes, there’s a lot.
ASOS is currently not involved in any sort of intersectional environmentalism: an acknowledgement that the waste that they create has effects on the communities and people around their production sites. Intersectional environmental sustainability is important to consider because it shows that a brand cares about communities and their workers in addition to the environment itself. If there are no people left, who’s going to care if we better the planet?
ASOS does not disclose how much water they are using within their production sites, nor do they disclose the amount of CO2 that they contribute to. They also do not show that they have any plans to try to reduce the amount of water they use, enforce wastewater guidelines, or limit their emissions.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global emissions – so ASOS, we’re going to need you to do better here. They do not have a plan to eliminate hazardous chemicals, establish a closed loop supply chain, create programs to extend the life of products, reduce their waste, protect the well-being of their raw-material suppliers, or use fabrics made of sustainably produced raw materials (in more than 50% of their collections).
What is ASOS doing then? ASOS does have environmental sustainability priorities. They are currently working towards using BCI cotton, which while not as good as GOTS certified organic cotton, is a step in the right direction.
They are also beginning to look into using more fair trade certified fabrics and using more sustainable forms of production. They have a 2025 goal of reducing their landfill waste by 50%. This will most likely come in the form of reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging.
Lastly, they have banned all animal derived materials. As of 2019, cashmere, wool, feathers, silk, and leather have been banned from the production process.
Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion (LDI): 1/8
This category is only worth 8 points, but it is important nonetheless. LDI shows if a brand is inclusive and diverse, and if they take a leadership position against irresponsible consumption.
As of now, ASOS does not take a stand to encourage less consumption and more ethical production. They also do not have many people of color working at senior leadership levels within their company. If you’re curious as to how we discovered this, a simple check on LinkedIn was all it took to see who was running their company at the highest levels.
ASOS does promote an inclusive workplace that does not discriminate against age, gender identity, sexuality, race, or religion. So, we’ll give them a point for that.
So How Ethical is ASOS?
Overall Score: 20/100
So where does all this math get ASOS? Let’s just say that they won’t be getting into any ivy leagues with scores like that. . .
As you can see, ASOS is not up to par with our criteria to be considered a sustainable fashion brand. A brand needs a minimum of 50 points to pass our criteria.
Is ASOS Fast Fashion?
Yes. ASOS sells fast fashion brands like Topman and Weekday.
The ASOS house brand is also fast fashion. You can see that when we checked the ASOS website their own brand had over 800 new items just in the men’s section.
ASOS is a multi-brand marketplace. While not every brand they sell is fast fashion, for the above reasons we would say yes, they are fast fashion.
What About ASOS Eco Edit?
Unfortunately we can’t endorse ASOS Eco Edit either. First, it is a small fraction of what they sell overall. Second, it’s a bit hard to evaluate when they removed Eco Edit from their website out of fear for a greenwashing probe.
The reason we don’t Certify collections is because they typically make up less than 10% of what a brand sells and sometimes less than 0.5%. In contrast, the brands we do Certify are 100% invested in more sustainable practices.
ASOS Could Do Better for Garment Workers and the Planet
Eco-Stylist doesn’t aim to dismiss brands. Instead, we seek to expose their weaknesses, allowing them insights into where they need to improve or grow. Currently, ASOS needs to put in a lot of work to become an approved brand.
So we ask you to simply consider when you go to shop online that there are brands out there that are comparable to ASOS who are treating their employees fairly, doing their best to help the environment, and are inclusive on all levels of their company. Wouldn’t you rather support them instead?
Sustainable Alternatives to ASOS
Start here: 10 Sustainable Alternatives to ASOS.
For a few more great ASOS swaps, check out these Eco-Stylist Certified brands:
Looking for More Sustainable Fashion Brands?
Check out Eco-Stylist’s certified brands for more fashion brands you can believe in!
What brands would you like us to review next?
*Article updated 10/19/22.
Catherine McCourt is a content writer at Eco-Stylist. She studies English, Creative Writing, and Philosophy at the University of Iowa. When she’s not writing about sustainability in fashion, Catherine enjoys painting, journaling, and much needed downtime.