Voluntary initiatives are not enough, say campaigners © Getty Images
Voluntary initiatives are not enough, say campaigners © Getty Images

Whitehall 'out of step' on regulation of fast fashion

The UK government has been accused of being “out of step” with consumers after rejecting MPs’ recommendations to regulate the fast fashion industry.

Following an inquiry the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) produced a series of recommendations around reducing environmental impact, cutting waste and improving conditions for garment workers.

The EAC called for mandatory environmental targets for retailers with turnovers above £36m, rewards for firms that design products with lower environmental impacts, a 1p tax on garments to fund a recycling scheme, and a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock. “All of which have been rejected,” said the EAC.

EAC chair Mary Creagh (Labour) 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.”

The EAC called for a “more proactive approach” to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and a publicly-accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement.

Last week prime minister Theresa May announced a central registry of slavery statements would be set up and called for a “strengthening and improving” of reports.

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.”

Anna Bryher, advocacy director for the fashion campaign group Labour Behind the Label, said: “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 those that are not.

“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.”

Malcolm Harrison, group CEO, CIPS, said: “Procurement and supply professionals must remain fleet of foot to respond to trends, and not only if you are a consumer facing business. The recent protests in London on climate change by the so-called Extinction Rebellion movement clearly demonstrate the power of consumer groups. Trends such as these have a knock on effect on investors and other business stakeholders.

“It is paramount that our supply chains are able to flex and be agile enough to quickly respond to changes in the market; to not only make our products more ethical and sustainable to appeal to a wider market, but to drive innovative new products to new markets.”

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