The EAC has been exploring the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry © Getty Images
The EAC has been exploring the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry © Getty Images

Change buyer incentives to tackle fashion supply chain slavery

19 February 2019

A report examining the UK fashion industry’s impact on modern slavery and the environment throughout supply chains has called for stronger action to be taken by the government.

The report, published by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), has called on the government to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) by publicly publishing a list of all retailers required to release a modern slavery statement and fining companies that fail to comply.  

The inquiry, launched by the ECA in June 2018, found that retailers including Foot Locker and Valentino are failing to comply with the MSA and disclose modern slavery statements.

The committee called for company law to be updated to require modern slavery disclosures by 2022.

Chair of the EAC Mary Creagh (Labour) said: “Fashion retailers have 'chased the cheap needle around the planet', commissioning production in countries with low pay and little trade union representation."

She continued: "Behind the perfect Instagram profiles and the pristine shop fronts of our fashion retailers the reality is shocking. Illegally low pay, the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in the global garment supply chain.”

Speaking to SM, Carry Somers, founder of non-profit Fashion Revolution, said that systemic change within the fashion industry is necessary to achieve greater transparency and providing incentives for both procurement professionals and suppliers could be key.

She said: “Procurement professionals could examine ways to incentivise their suppliers, tied to improvement in good labour practices to reduce the risk of slavery and forced labour, as well as improved environmental management. These could include long-term commitments to purchase, longer contracts, increased orders, price premiums and fewer audits.”

In evidence provided the the EAC, Fashion Revolution called for the MSA to be strengthened to include extending the current legislation to cover public procurement and establishing a public database of all companies required to comply alongside copies of their MSA statements.

The inquiry was looking into the global social and environmental impact of the UK’s fashion industry and in particular the nature of fast fashion.

The report said that while most of the clothes sold in the UK are produced in Asia, where labour costs are low, garment manufacturing in the UK has grown as brands and retailers seek to respond faster to consumer demand, though exploitation has been rife within the textile industry.

The report also called on the government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create by implementing mandatory environmental targets for retailers with a turnover above £36m as well as rewards for companies that design products with lower environmental impacts.

The committee also recommended charging retailers 1p for each garment they sell in order to fund a £35m annual recycling scheme for textiles, as currently less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled.

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