Amazon, Boohoo and Sports Direct are the least engaged, say MPs © 123RF
Amazon, Boohoo and Sports Direct are the least engaged, say MPs © 123RF

Fashion retailers ‘failing to take action’ on sustainability

31 January 2019

Major fashion retailers are “failing to take action” to reduce their environmental and social impact, MPs have said.

In an interim report the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) revealed that brands such as Amazon, Boohoo and Sports Direct are among the “least engaged” fashion retailers when it comes to their commitment to environmental sustainability and labour market initiatives.

JD Sports, Missguided and TK Maxx were also found to be “lagging behind” the rest of the industry.

As the least engaged retailers, none of the brands had signed up to sustainability initiatives such as SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan), voluntary targets committing to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint or the ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) living wage initiative.

As part of its inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, the EAC contacted 16 UK fashion retailers to ask how they planned to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.

The retailers were asked about a range of actions and initiatives, including the use of organic or sustainable cotton, limiting the discharge of hazardous chemicals, and the re-use or recycling of unsold stock.

ASOS, Burberry, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Primark were the most engaged retailers, with each using organic or sustainable cotton and recycled material in their products, as well as having in-store take-back schemes for discarded clothes. The EAC also welcomed Burberry’s commitment to end the incineration of unsold stock.

Among the retailers listed as “moderately engaged” were Arcadia Group, Asda, Debenhams and Next. The EAC recognised that each of the retailers had made some steps to address sustainability and social issues.

Footwear and accessories retailer Kurt Geiger did not respond to the EAC’s request for information.

Chair of the EAC, Mary Creagh (Labour), said: “It’s shocking to see that a group of major retailers are failing to take action to promote environmental sustainability and protect their workers. It’s disappointing that only a third of the retailers we wrote to are signed up to ACT, an important global initiative working towards getting a living wage for all garment workers.”

She said she hoped the publication of the results motivated underperforming retailers to start taking responsibility for their workers and their environmental impact.

As part of the inquiry, data from HMRC revealed that UK garment factories were forced to pay over £90,000 to employees for non-payment of the minimum wage.

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