1 March, 2019
Findings from the UK Environmental Audit Committee Report on the impacts of the fashion industry
"The fashion industry’s current business model is unsustainable, especially with growing populations and rising levels of consumption across the globe”."
The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee’s report Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability, published in February 2019 marks a turning point for the fashion industry on a global scale with a strong call for accountability and regulation industry wide.
The goal of the inquiry was to investigate how the industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable. The report states emphatically that “the fashion industry’s current business model is unsustainable, especially with growing populations and rising levels of consumption across the globe”, and that “retailers must take responsibility for the social and environmental cost of clothes”.
It's clear that the fashion industry must take action if it is to remain viable, and businesses that respond now will get the benefit of having new systems in place by the time regulation takes effect. Sustainability is no longer a trend, but a business imperative.
We outline the key findings and recommendations of the report below.
The environmental cost of our clothes
The way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution. Synthetic fibres are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, in fish and shellfish.
The social cost of our clothes
The UK's 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. The report is 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.
Textile waste and collection
In the UK, they buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. A glut of second hand clothing swamping the market is depressing prices for used textiles. What can’t be sold is torn up and turned into insulation and mattress stuffing.
Worse still, around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in household black bins every year, sent to landfill or incinerators. Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life.
Meanwhile, retailers are burning new unsold stock merely to preserve their brand.
VIDEO: Mary Creagh MP, Sustainable fashion
New economic models for the fashion industry
We need a new economic model for fashion. Business as usual no longer works. The report recommends Government change the law to require companies to perform due diligence checks across their supply chains. The report also recommends that the Government reforms taxation to reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
The Government reforms taxation to reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not. Likewise the report also suggests tax incentives for reuse and repair, along with VAT reductions for repair services.
Extended Producer Responsibility
A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers, should be introduced for clothing, and it should happen soon – before 2025.
Modern Slavery Act strengthening
The Modern Slavery Act should be strengthened and the government should publish a publicly accessible list of all those retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. It is recommended that this be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act.
The government should work with industry to trace the source of raw material in garments to tackle social and environmental abuses in their supply chains. Research should be accelerated into the relative environmental performance of different materials, particularly with respect to measures to reduce microfibre pollution.
Design & Education
The Resources and Waste strategy should incorporate eco-design principles and offer incentives for design for recycling, design for disassembly and design for durability. It should also set up a new investment fund to stimulate markets for recycled fibres. Lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes be included in schools at Key stage 2 and 3.
Read the summary here:
Read the full report here: