Enforcing the minimum wage for UK clothes factories workers, putting a tax on unsustainable fashion, and investing in collection & sorting of used clothes are three of the recommendations made by the Environmental Audit Commission (EAC) in 2019. Their report is available here.
The EAC is a group of MPs across all parties whose job is to make sure that the government delivers on its promises. Two years ago they published ‘Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’. I was quite taken aback by the tone of the report when I read it – the committee did not pull any punches.
They were quite fiery, in fact!
Here are some word-for-word comments taken from the report:
- ‘The way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution.’
- ‘We are also concerned about the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in factories and the garment supply chain.’
- ‘The Government must change the system to end the throwaway society’
- ‘We were shocked by the treatment of Missguided’s auditors. If this is how factory owners treat potential customers, we dread to think of the conditions endured by their workers’
As someone who’s participated more than most in fast fashion – many is the time my office desk has been loaded with ASOS.com parcels – it did make uncomfortable reading. The report mentions that when clothes made from synthetic materials such as polyester (that’s most modern clothes) are washed, they shed plastic fibres which find their way into the sea.
We think that by taking used clothes to charity ships, we’re doing good. That can be true, but the committee found that charity shops are so inundated with donations that some wearable clothing is sent abroad to be sold in developing countries. Sending clothes to developing countries often isn’t a good thing because it can kill off local textile industries. Other clothing is shredded or burnt.
The Committee suggested that taxing one penny per garment on producers could raise £35 million for investment in better clothing collection and sorting in the UK. Seems pretty reasonable to me – I’d pay an extra penny for a new top if that money went to improve recycling. However, the government accepted none of the committee’s recommendations.
In 2020 the Committee conducted a follow-up to its report – there should be news on that soon. What do you think the government should do? Should they count on voluntary actions by fashion companies, or is tougher action needed?
#sustainablefashion #ethicalfashion #fashion #sustainability