ASOS Collaborates to Ensure More Secure Work Environments in Mauritius
According to BSR, the global garment industry employs an estimated 70 million people throughout its value chain. They are the backbone of the industry. Solely acknowledging the environmental degradation associated with many fashion industry practices is not enough if we fail to also address the social issues so closely linked to the industry. Sustainability must be understood in all its nuance.
The fashion industry has the power to drive positive social and economic development for these people, their families, and their communities by upholding human rights, creating secure working conditions, paying fair wages, and promoting wellbeing. Not only are better practices an ethical imperative, but the industry is now faced with a new generation of consumers, with higher expectations and demands like never before.
While these goals are inherently valuable and should be pursued for their own sake, they can also bring numerous benefits for fashion companies, such as higher productivity, employee retention and value chain resilience.
Forged alliances between fashion brands and NGOs increasingly play an important role in accelerating work towards worker protections and the improvement of working conditions.
On a mission to eradicate modern slavery amongst migrant workers in garment manufacturing, online retailer; ASOS, is working together with key stakeholders in Mauritius to ensure the rights of migrant workers are protected.
Mauritius has been a focus of the ASOS Ethical Trade programme since 2016, when ASOS discovered that migrant workers in its supply chain were subject to debt bondage and other issues indicative of modern slavery. On the back of this, ASOS worked to implement the employer pays principle and collaborate to drive systemic, long-term change. The company submitted a funding proposal to the UK Home Office’s Modern Slavery Innovation Fund with Anti-Slavery International and IndustriALL Global Union. As a result of this funding, in 2019, ASOS and IndustriALL Global Union supported the establishment of the Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) in Mauritius alongside collaborators Anti-Slavery International and Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Publique et Privé.
Between April 2020, when the MRC registered its first case, and early April 2022, the MRC recorded 113 grievances affecting over 2,100 workers. 64% of these grievances are now resolved, and 10% partially resolved. Within this same timeframe, the MRC also recorded 23 requests for information, affecting 913 workers. Most common grievances include wage theft; contractual issues; inadequate living conditions; insufficient food; confiscation and retention of documents; deception about employment conditions; threats and intimidation. The MRC has also collaborated with the International Organisation for Migration for the development of Standard Operating Procedures to fight human trafficking and the High Commission of Bangladesh in Mauritius to provide support on specific cases.
The centre, which formally opened this year, supports migrant workers individually and collectively by providing information and advice, facilitating remedy and providing a safe space to interact freely and openly with each other. To further address risk of exploitation, an independent channel has been established for migrant workers to report workplace violations that may otherwise go unresolved. Beyond grievance resolution, the MRC has also helped to increase knowledge among migrant workers on their rights through monthly awareness raising sessions.
The collaboration that emerged under the UK Home Office’s Modern Slavery Innovation Fund is the first time a brand, NGO and trade union has worked together in this way and provides a case study that can be applied to other migration corridors and sourcing regions. It is one of the only mechanisms in Mauritius with the capacity and leverage to challenge power imbalances between migrant workers and their employers, which is fundamental when addressing systemic exploitation. The data and information gathered by the MRC is fundamental in helping inform key stakeholders about the issues faced by migrant workers. It plays a key role in reducing the risk of exploitation and helping coordinate these stakeholders to reduce modern slavery risks associated with the use of migrant labour in Mauritius, ensuring workers are protected and respected.
Learn more in ASOS’ latest Modern Slavery Statement here.
Going forward, fashion brands must continue to collaborate with their manufacturing partners and participate in convening with an alliance of actors to improve the work environments for people employed throughout the fashion value cycle.