The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has demanded that online fashion retailers such as Asos and Amazon reveal the social and environmental impacts of their business.
EAC chair Mary Creigh wrote to ‘fast fashion’ houses Amazon, Asos, Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided last week, asking what they do to prevent supply chain slavery and reduce harmful microplastics and fibres being released into the sea.
Last week experts suggested in parliament that fast fashion was exacerbating labour issues by competing on low prices and fast turnaround, thereby procuring clothes too cheaply and increasing the risk of wage abuse in the supply chain.
In the letter retailers were asked how they ensure their workers are paid at least the minimum wage and whether they educate their buyers on how to source garments responsibly rather than at the minimum price possible.
They were also asked how much they use recycled materials in producing clothes, how strictly they audit their supply chains for environmental issues and whether they incinerate unsold stock.
A response is required by 15 November and will be made available to the public.
This summer, fashion house Burberry was forced to end the practice of burning unsold clothes after coming under fire from environmental groups such as Greenpeace.
The letter comes as part of a wider EAC investigation into the sustainability of the fashion industry, which has seen representatives from charities, experts and academics tell MPs about the risks associated with fast fashion.
Because they strive for faster and cheaper supply chains, online retailers have increased the use of cheap labour in UK cities such as Leicester, Sarah O’Connor, an investigative journalist for the Financial Times, told the inquiry.
“The going rate for a garment worker in lots of places in Leicester is £3.50, £4 an hour,” she said. “This sort of sector that is starting to flourish... because there is much more demand from these fast fashion retailers.”
Kate Elsayed-Ali, international advocacy manager at Anti-Slavery International, added that as well as the Modern Slavery Act, which compels companies to make a statement on what they are doing to fight forced labour, the government should bring in laws meaning companies have to examine their supply chain more closely.
“That has to be mandatory supply chain transparency and mandatory due diligence. We cannot leave it up to some to be the leaders and bring others along with them,” she added.
Stella Claxton, lecturer in fashion management at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Chasing low prices has led to global supply chains looking for cheaper manufacturing, which is normally in developing countries.
“This makes supply chains very fragmented and complicated, which means that quite often the problems are not known about, not necessarily actively hidden but just very difficult to trace and be transparent.”
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