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Fashion: shouldn’t cost the earth


Fixing fashion report, Government Response, Environmental Audit Committee, Labour Behing the Label, Modern Slavery, Leicester factoriesThe government ‘is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers’.

The Environmental Audit Committee has published the Government Response to its report ‘Fixing Fashion Report: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability‘.

The Committee’s report, published in February 2019, called on the government to end the era of throwaway fashion, through wide-ranging recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices.

All of which have been rejected.

Recommendations included calls on enforcement bodies to address illegal wages in Leicester and other UK factories, transparency measures to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act requirements for companies to report, and a 1p charge per garment to producers to fund textile recycling schemes.

The Government Response to Fixing Fashion Report’s key recommendations said that:

Recommendation: A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers.

Not accepted. The government noted the EAC’s one penny per garment recommendation and will consider it in its own development of a new Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes. But no detail on when EPR scheme for textiles will be introduced was given; consultation could run as late as 2025.

Recommendation: A ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled.

Rejected. The government considers that positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban.

Recommendation: Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million.

Not accepted. The government pointed to environmental savings made by a voluntary industry-led programme but failed to address evidence from WRAP that the impact of the increased volumes of clothing being sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water.

Recommendation: The fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels.

Not accepted. The government pointed to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), co-ordinated by WRAP, with the industry working towards targets to reduce carbon emissions, water and waste.

Recommendation: The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.

Not accepted. The government will focus on a tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing.

Recommendation: The government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies.

Not accepted.

Recommendation: The government should follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services.

Response: It said there was little evidence a VAT reduction had been effective in Sweden or that savings have been passed on to consumers.

Recommendation: A more proactive approach to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage, with greater resourcing for HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team so they can increase inspection and detection work.

Response: The government said HMRC and other enforcement agencies were already taking a more proactive approach with increase in budget and officers dedicated to NMW enforcement.

Recommendation: The government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act.

But no recommendations relating to modern slavery have been adopted.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create.

“The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers, despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.

“The government is out of step with the public, who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill.

“Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

And remarking on the issues related to workers’ rights that were raised, Creagh said: “We presented the government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.

“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour, however the government hasn’t accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains,” she continued.

“This is plain wrong.

“The EAC will be closely monitoring steps that the government claims it is taking to address the problems exposed in our report.”

And Anna Bryher, Advocacy Director for the fashion campaign group Labour Behind the Label, said: “This short sighted, knee jerk response to a set of progressive steps to address waste and sustainability in Fashion is unwelcome.

“There is an urgent need for the government to step in, clearly laid out by the Environmental Audit Committee, but ministers can’t see beyond the end of their own leadership contest.

“In order to build a country fit for the future, politicians need to be courageous and uncompromising on both the environment and human rights.

“The fashion industry is key in the war on plastic, and brands and government need to act jointly to address waste.”

“We are particularly unhappy that recommendations on addressing illegal wages in Leicester were so summarily dismissed when repeated and damning evidence has been shown that a systematic problem exists.

“It is not enough to carry on with business as usual – a new response is needed from regulators.”

“We urgently need legislation that will create some minimum guidelines for companies to follow. Indeed, even some companies are asking for legislation to level the playing field between those brands taking some measures to improve sustainability and human rights and those that are not,” Bryher added.

“This government shows it is behind the times by sticking to the fallacy that voluntary initiatives are all that is needed to turn this industry around. It is clearly not the case.”

To read the Environmental Audit Committee’s full report, click here.

To read the Government Response, click here.

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