MPs urge online fashion giants to disclose environmental and social impacts

In letters to five of the UK's largest online-only fashion retailers, including Amazon and ASOS, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has called on brands within the so-called "fast fashion" industry to disclose the full extent of their environmental and social impacts.

The letters, written by EAC chair Mary Creagh and published today (9 November), request information whether the brands use recycled materials in their products, how long their company’s clothes are likely to be kept for and the measures they are taking to encourage garment repair, reuse and recycling.

Last month, the Committee heard evidence suggesting that the buying practices of some online fashion retailers may be putting British clothing manufacturers in a position where they can only afford to pay garment workers illegally low wages. In response, the letter urges recipient brands to disclose information on how supply chain workers are paid.  

Creagh said that the aim of the letters – which have been sent to Amazon UK, ASOS, Boohoo, Misguided and PrettyLittleThing, was to demand that online retailers “face up to the social and environmental consequences of their business models”.

“Low-quality £5 dresses aimed at young people are said to be made by workers on illegally low wages and are discarded almost instantly, causing mountains of non-recycled waste to pile up,” Creagh said.

“We want to know that online-only retail companies are fully compliant with employment law, that garments have a decent life-span, and that profit is not put before environmental damage.”

A further request in the letter is for the brands to disclose their procedure for dealing with unsold and returned goods, after Burberry faced scrutiny this summer for revealing that it had incinerated more than £28m worth of stock over the past 12 months. The luxury brand has since pledged to stop burning products deemed unsaleable and urged other retailers to follow suit.

Fast fashion frenzy

The call to action forms part of the EAC’s ongoing investigation into the environmental and social ramifications of the growth of the UK’s multi-billion pound “fast fashion” industry, which began this summer.

The Committee has already sent letters to the likes of Primark, Next and Marks and Spencer (M&S) to demand greater disclosure as part of the enquiry, with brands informed that any information may be used as evidence in the probe.

However, the decision to write to online-only retailers came after evidence from academics, investigative journalists and industry body representatives suggested that some UK garment workers are paid between £3.50 and £5 per hour to make clothes for such brands.

Those to have given evidence during the investigation so far additionally claimed that the sale of low-priced, low-quality garments to young women online was likely to discourage consumers from reusing, recycling or donating their clothes.

The evidence comes after recent EAC research revealed 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. The World Wear Project similarly 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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