UK: Environmental Audit Committee investigates sustainability of fashion industry

In June 2018, the UK's Environmental Audit Committee launched an investigation into the social and environmental impact of disposable ‘fast fashion’ and the wider clothing industry. The inquiry examines the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. It will look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution reduced.

In November, the Committee questioned Marks & Spencer, Primark, Arcadia Group, Burberry, Boohoo, ASOS and Missguided about their practices at an oral hearing

As party of its inquiry, the Committee also wrote to 16 UK fashion retailers to ask what steps they are taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the garments they sell. The Committee also asked four online retailers to answer similar questions following evidence at its first hearing about illegally low wages for garment workers and the disposability of some 'fast fashion' garments. In addition, the Committee wrote to Burberry and Kurt Geiger, following reports of stock burning by brands.

In February 2019, the Committee released a report on it's findings, highlighting key issues in the fashion industry, including environmental costs and human rights violations in supply chains. The report concludes that a new economic model for fashion is required and makes several recommendations to the Government, including a recommendation to change the law to require companies to perform due diligence checks across their supply chains.

 

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Report
19 February 2019

UK: MPs' report says fashion industry is unsustainable; Calls for govt. to introduce mandatory due diligence legislation

Author: Environmental Audit Committee

"Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability", 19 February 2019

The way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable...

Our biggest retailers have ‘chased the cheap needle around the planet’, commissioning production in countries with low pay, little trade union representation and weak environmental protection. In many countries, poverty pay and conditions are standard for garment workers, most of whom are women.

We are also concerned about the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in factories and the garment supply chain. Fast fashions’ overproduction and overconsumption of clothing is based on the globalisation of indifference towards these manual workers...

Forced labour is used to pick cotton in two of the world’s biggest cotton producing countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Labour exploitation is also taking place in the UK... we were told it is an open secret that some garment factories in places like Leicester are not paying the minimum wage...

We need a new economic model for fashion... The Government should change the law to require companies to perform due diligence checks across their supply chains...

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Report
31 January 2019

UK: Environmental Audit Committee releases interim report on sustainability of fashion industry

Author: Environmental Audit Committee

"Interim Report on the Sustainability of the Fashion Industry", 31 January 2019

1. As part of our inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, we heard evidence outlining the urgent need for the fashion industry to address its labour market and environmental sustainability issues. In autumn 2018 we wrote to sixteen leading UK fashion retailers to ask what steps they are taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell... We also asked four leading online retailers to answer similar questions... In addition, we wrote to two leading luxury UK fashion brands, Burberry and Kurt Geiger, following reports of stock burning...

2. We were impressed with the level of engagement by some retailers. Others expressed openness to engaging on these issues and have taken some small steps. A few retailers, unfortunately, do not seem to consider social and environmental responsibility as a priority. One, Kurt Geiger, did not reply at all...

3. We believe that there is scope for retailers to do much more to tackle labour market and environmental sustainability issues. We are disappointed that so few retailers are showing leadership through engagement with industry initiatives.

4. This is an interim report on the sustainability of the fashion industry...

The full report is available here.

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Article
31 January 2019

UK: MPs say fashion brands are "failing to commit" to reducing environmental & social impact

Author: BBC

"MPs say fast fashion brands inaction on ethics is shocking", 31 January 2019

Fashion retailers JD Sports, Sports Direct and Boohoo, are "failing to commit" to reducing their environmental and social impact, MPs say. Amazon, TK Maxx and Missguided were also described by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) as being among the "least engaged" in sustainable fashion and labour market initiatives...

The findings are part of the EAC's inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry... 

The "most engaged" were named as Asos, Marks & Spencer Tesco, Primark and Burberry... The "moderately engaged" retailers were Next, Debenhams, Arcadia Group and Asda... 

Kurt Geiger was also approached but did not respond to requests for written evidence, the EAC said...

In a statement, Boohoo said..."This initial report does not fully reflect the policies and procedures and independent initiatives that we have in place, or the extent of our ongoing commitment in the area of sustainability."

JD Sports said "As a business, we participate in a number of ethical initiatives which fall outside the narrow list referred to in the Committee's report."...

EAC chair Mary Creagh said: "It's shocking to see that a group of major retailers are failing to take action to promote environmental sustainability and protect their workers...

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Article
19 December 2018

Ministers accused of insufficient action against UK garment sector abuses by parliament inquiry

Author: Sonia Elks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

"Labor abuses a 'risk worth taking' for fashion firms, UK lawmakers say", 18 December 2018

Fashion workers in Britain are being cheated of fair wages as lack of tough action make abuses “a risk worth taking” for factory owners, lawmakers said...

Ministers were accused of failing to act following reports of some workers being paid as little as 3.50 pounds... per hour, less than half the minimum wage.

“It’s clear that modern slavery is happening in plain sight and potentially in garment factories in the UK,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the U.K. parliament’s environmental audit committee, after a hearing about sustainability in fashion. “...There is an incentive not to pay minimum wage because the chances of getting caught are infinitesimally small"...

Committee members said insufficient action was being taken against those committing labor abuses in Britain. There have been just 14 prosecutions for non-payment of the minimum wage since 1999, the hearing heard... checks on factories were rare and fines for those underpaying workers were often only a few hundred pounds.

The government is acting on claims of abuse, said... the minister for small business... Lack of clarity over supply chains, even within Britain, can make prosecutions difficult, the hearing was told...

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Article
29 November 2018

UK retailers defend practices in parliament sustainability inquiry

Author: Don-Alvin Adegeest, FashionUnited

"UK retailers defend selling cheap clothes in sustainability enquiry", 29 November 2018

... [H&M and Primark] along with most of the UK high street chains including Topshop, Asos and Boohoo, defended their models of selling cheap fashion in parliament this week when questioned as part of the Environmental Audit Committee’s ongoing inquiry into sustainability of the fashion industry.

The enquiry was chaired by Mary Creagh MP who asked outright how Primark could justify selling its T-shirts for as little as two pounds... Primark, said: “Primark has never done any significant advertising at all, and that can save us in any year 100m to 150m pounds... That keeps our pricing low. It’s our business model that takes us to a 2 pound T-shirt.”

...Retailers were also asked about their supply chains and factory workers, and how they comply with safety and fair wages. Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks and Spencer stated their is a known risk when producing in countries where the minimum working age is 15. "The more you have people on the ground, the more you hear, the more you can respond to that."

...The Chair also asked the UK’s leading online retailers to give evidence... about illegally low wages for garment workers and disposability of some fast fashion garments. Furthermore companies were asked to respond to concerns about the excessive waste, plastic pollution and carbon footprint being generated by the fast fashion business model...

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