The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh MP has written to the chief executives of the UK’s ten leading fashion retailers to find out what steps they are taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.
The request for evidence will inform the Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, which is investigating how the UK’s fashion industry – that is worth £28bn a year to the UK economy – can reduce its environmental footprint.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet. 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.”
Clothing production contributes to climate change, and when clothes are washed they release microplastic fibres, which make their way into the ocean. Unwanted and outdated clothing end up in landfill, while some charities have complained that second-hand clothes are exported and dumped on overseas markets.
“The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet. 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.”
Although there has been a renewed interest in recent years in clothing made in Britain, there are concerns that the demand for fast fashion is fuelling the need for quick turn-arounds in the supply chain, leading to poor working conditions in UK garment factories.
Fashion retailers are being asked about their environmental footprint to inform the Committee’s recommendations to Government on how to solve these problems. Among the questions fashion retailers are being asked to respond to:
- whether they pay the living wage to garment workers and how they ensure child labour is not used in their supply chains;
- whether they use recycled materials;
- how long clothes are kept and how they encourage recycling;
- whether they incinerate unsold or returned stock;
- what steps they are taking to reduce the risk of microplastics contaminating the ocean; and
- what other steps they are taking to reduce the environmental impact of their clothing ranges and how they audit success.
The companies the Environmental Audit Committee has written to are: Marks and Spencer Group, Primark Stores, Next Retail, Arcadia Group, Asda, TK Maxx and HomeSense, Tesco, JD Sports Fashion, Debenhams, Sports Direct International.
The deadline for replies is October 12 2018 and the Committee may then choose to invite some of the biggest retailers into Parliament for further questioning. Hearings for the inquiry are due to take place in November.
The EAC has published submissions of written evidence it has already received in the inquiry from experts, campaigners, and sustainable fashion innovators. It reveals that:
- Consumption of new clothing is higher in the UK than any other European country – 26.7kg per capita. This compares to a consumption rate of 16.7 (Germany), 16.0 (Denmark), 14.5 (Italy), 14.0 (Netherlands) and 12.6 (Sweden). (Submission from Textiles Recycling Association)
- Clothing production has roughly doubled in15 years. During the past 10 years studies suggest that the number of items of clothing purchased per consumer has increased more than two fold. (Submission from Traid)
- Academic research within Leicester, as a UK sourcing hub, found that most garment workers (75-90%) are paid below the National Minimum Wage, do not have employment contracts, and are subject to intense and arbitrary work practices. (British Retail Consortium)
- Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing ends up in household residual waste every year, with around 80% going to landfill and 20% incinerated (Submission from Traid)
- There is clear evidence that marine habitats around the UK and globally are being contaminated with synthetic fibres (Submission from Professor Thompson, University of Plymouth)
- A single domestic wash can release in the region of 700,000 fibres to wastewater. Some fibres are intercepted in wastewater treatment but some escape to the environment. (Submission from Professor Thompson, University of Plymouth)
- The global fashion industry produced 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015, more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. (Submission from Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
- Demand for clothing in the UK drives the production of almost three times more emissions outside of the UK than it drives domestically (Submission from Soil Association)
- Clothing production uses a large volume of water and can result in extensive water pollution. In 2016, the water footprint of clothing in use in the UK was around eight billion cubic metres (with each cubic metre equalling 1,000 litres) of water. (Submission from Traid)
- A pair of 501 Levi’s jeans will use 3,781 litres in its full lifecycle, from growing cotton and its manufacture through to consumer care and end-of-life disposal. (Submission from Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
- Countries such as China, India and Pakistan, which now supply most of the cotton for UK clothes, are more likely to suffer severe water stress and scarcity. (Submission from Traid).
The written evidence was published 3 October and is available to view here.