MPs call on fashion brand chief executives to disclose environmental impacts

In a letter to the chief executives of ten of Britain’s largest fashion retailers, including Primark, Next and Marks and Spencer (M&S), the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has called for big-name fashion brands to disclose the full extent of their environmental and social impacts.

The letter, penned by EAC chair Mary Creagh, has today (5 October) implored companies to contribute to the Committee’s call for evidence on the environmental impact of throwaway “fast fashion” in the UK.

Specifically, members of the EAC have asked the chief executives to disclose whether they use recycled materials in their product lines, how long their company’s clothes are likely to be kept for and the measures their corporates take to encourage textile recycling.

Following on from the backlash that erupted after Burberry voluntarily revealed that it had burned more than £28m worth of stock over the past 12 months, Creagh also urged the recipients of the letter to disclose whether they incinerate unsold or returned products.

“The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet,” Creagh said.

“Fashion and footwear retailers have a responsibility to minimise their environmental footprint and make sure the workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage. We want to hear what they are doing to make their industry more sustainable.”

A further request included in the letter is for fashion firms to routinely report on whether they pay the living wage to garment workers, and to disclose the ways in which they ensure child labour is avoided at supply chain level. The recommendation comes just days after H&M was accused of failing to fulfil a commitment to pay all garment workers enough to keep them above the poverty line.

The letter was sent to representatives from M&S, Primark, Next, Asda, Tk Maxx and HomeSense, Tesco, JD Sports Fashion, Debenhams, Sports Direct International and the Arcadia Group, which manages the likes of Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins as well as Wallis and Evans.

Commenting, the British Retail Consortium’s head of sustainability Peter Andrews said: “As our population grows, more people are buying more clothes, which does impact the environment. However, because of the efforts of leading fashion retailers, many of the clothes that we now buy have lower individual environmental impacts. This has been achieved through sourcing more sustainable materials, designing products that are made to last, and encouraging customers to return unwanted clothes for reuse.

“Looking ahead, we know more needs to be done. Clothing production is a global marketplace and the best answers to its environmental and social impacts will be achieved with collaborative global actions.”

Fast fashion frenzy

The letter comes shortly after the EAC published new research revealing that UK residents are consuming new clothing at a faster rate than their counterparts in mainland Europe, purchasing an average of 26.7kg every year.

In contrast, German consumers were found to buy 16.7kg of garments annually, with the figures for Denmark and Italy standing at 16kg and 14.7kg respectively. Sweden, meanwhile, was found to be the European leader in “slow fashion”, with each resident purchasing just 12.6kg of new clothing each year.

According to the British Fashion Council, the UK fashion industry contributed £28.1bn to national GDP in 2015, up from £21bn in 2009. But the globalised market for fashion manufacturing has facilitated a “fast fashion” phenomenon; a proliferation of cheap and cheerful clothing, with a quick turnover that encourages consumers to keep buying – and throwing away.

Indeed, a recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation put the annual cost to the UK economy of landfilling clothing and household textiles at about £82m, while the World Wear Project estimates that the average household generates more than 35kg of waste clothing annually, with 85% being sent to landfill.

Sarah George

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