Committee revisits fashion sustainability and working conditions in UK garment industry due to continued concerns

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The Environmental Audit Committee has chosen to revisit the issues from its 2018 inquiry, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability, due to continued concerns around the environmental impact of the fashion industry and working conditions in UK garment factories.

The Government rejected most of the Committee’s recommendations in 2019, which ranged from a producer responsibility charge to pay for better clothing collection and recycling to requiring due diligence checks across fashion supply chains to root out forced or child labour.

However, the Government has identified textile waste as a priority area to address its Resources and Waste Strategy.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, commented on the announcement: “Two years, four fashion seasons and billions of tonnes of harmful emissions from textile production later, my Committee has decided to revisit its fashion sustainability work.

“The fashion industry has a major environmental footprint – from the extraordinary amount of water to create cotton and polyester, to the sheer scale of waste with many items being worn once and thrown away.

“Our thirst for the latest trends is simply unsustainable.

“But, as we found two years ago, this inquiry goes beyond the harmful impact to the environment.

“Accusations of labour market exploitation in the UK remain, with poor working conditions and illegally low wages.

“Two years on, I hope there have been some improvements in the fashion industry.

“We will be unearthing whether this is the case, and what more needs to be done to secure our goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The global fashion industry is estimated to have produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018; the equivalent to the combined emissions of France, Germany and the UK.

Fast fashion also creates a waste problem in the UK and developing countries.

UK citizens buy more new clothes than any other European country and throw away over a million tonnes of clothing every year.

While two thirds of clothing is either donated or collected for resale or low quality recycling, around 336,000 tonnes is disposed of in household bins destined for landfill or incineration.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on garment factories in Leicester.

Reports of poor working conditions suggests to the Environmental Audit Committee that there has been little improvement since the Committee’s report, which recommended regular audits and for companies to engage with unions for their workers.

The Committee is inviting written evidence until Friday 13 November 2020 on the following:

  • What progress has been made in reducing the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry since the Fixing Fashion report came out?
  • What impact has the pandemic had on fashion waste?
  • What impact has the pandemic had on the relationship between fashion retailers and suppliers?
  • How could employment law and payment of the minimum wage be more effectively enforced within the UK fashion industry?
  • What are the pros and cons of proposals to license factories or more strongly regulate purchasing practices?
  • What would be the most effective measures industry or Government could put in place to ensure that materials or products made with forced or prison camp labour are removed from the supply chain?
  • How can any stimulus after the Coronavirus crisis be used to promote a more sustainable fashion industry?
  • Is the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan adequate to address the environmental impact of the UK fashion industry? How ambitious should its targets be in its next phase?
  • What actions could Government take to improve the collection of fashion waste?
  • What actions could the Government take to incentivise the use of recycled or reused fibres and materials in the UK fashion industry?
  • How could an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for textiles be designed to incentive improvements in the sustainability of garments on sale in the UK?

More information about the call for evidence and on submitting evidence is available here