Sustainable fashion: HotC Intern Yasmin shares her future career aspirations

My Name is Yasmin, I’m 23 years old and a responsible business intern at Heart of the City.  The internship is part of a six month graduate trainee programme run by East London Business Alliance (ELBA) that places graduates from East London into corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles across the City.

I’m only four months into my internship, but I’m already really clear on what I want to do next and for my future career.  When I was at university, I didn’t think I would be able to find a role that could combine my love for fashion and my passion for international development, but now I’m really keen to pursue a career in sustainable fashion.

At Heart of the City we support our member companies from across London to put responsible behaviour at the heart of what they do.  We do this through our calendar of events, mentoring and our online resources.  Heart of the City helps share the knowledge and expertise of experienced CSR teams with smaller businesses wanting to develop their responsible business strategy and programmes.  It was through our events and planning for 2017 activities that my interest in sustainable sourcing and ethical supply chains developed.

Knowing of my interest in fashion, Natalie Tickle, our Membership Manager, arranged for me to meet with James Birnie from ASOS to hear about his role in their ethical trade team.

Meeting with James was a fantastic opportunity and it was so interesting to learn more about their ethical trade programme, the challenges they face and the current ethical practices they apply to their supply chain.

ASOS sell both their own brand and third party brands varying from micro to corporate sized companies, the ethical trade team manage the ethical practices of their own brand supply chain and aim to start influencing the practices of the third party brands they work with. Suppliers and factories overseas are audited to meet ASOS specific requirements which, as well as health & safety standards, also include human rights issues, ensuring foreign born workers have the right to work, and overtime regulations etc.

Ensuring a uniform work ethos can be difficult for all companies when managing areas of their supply chains when they are based in various locations overseas. One challenge ASOS is mindful of are cultural differences.

Work/life balance or even working hour restrictions is approached differently around the world. In the UK, we have working time regulations and a more recent focus on flexible working. However, in East Asia workers request long hour work days for a set amount of months out of the year, accumulating their wages in order to return home to the rural areas many factory workers migrate from.

Additionally, different attitudes to various groups range vastly around the globe. From age, race, sex, sexual orientation and religion, ensuring respectful treatment of all workers in your supply chain can come with the challenge of changing mind-sets, and is often a long-term goal requiring time for a genuine and gradual process of equality.

The fashion industry has often faced criticism for the treatment of employees in their supply chain, but as one of the largest industries in the world economy, the fashion industry can also be a major catalyst for international development. It is therefore essential that responsible business practices and an ethical supply chain are at the heart of what they do.

Meeting James and hearing about the work ASOS are doing to improve their supply chain has really helped show me what I want to do.  Ethical supply chains in the fashion industry may have its challenges, but it has the power to create great change.  I want to see how the fashion industry can continue to produce clothes without depleting the natural resources used in the manufacturing process and I hope to work for a company that has ethics at the heart of its supply chain, ensuring the human rights and health and safety of all its employees regardless of where they are based or where they are in the supply chain.

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