The government must do more to hold fashion retailers responsible for the waste that they create, a House of Commons committee has said.
In a final report published by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today on the sustainability of the fashion industry, MPs have proposed charging brands and retailers a penny for each item of clothing they produce – a move they would raise £35m for better recycling of used clothing.
With the EAC confirming last month that several big retailers are trailing behind, they have also called for better taxation to reward companies that reduce their environmental footprint, such as by offering repair services.
EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: ‘Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.
‘Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.’
Currently, people in the UK buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe and dispose of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth of clothes going to landfill each year.
Trusting retailers to act voluntarily to reduce their environmental footprint has failed, according to the EAC, as they found that only 11 retailers are signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), the industry-led plan to reduce carbon, water and waste consumption.
Retailers with a turnover of over £36m should therefore be forced to sign up to the scheme as a ‘licence to practice’, the committee has argued.
The EAC said that one way the government could reward retailers for acting environmentally is to offer incentives to retailers who design clothes that can be easily recycled, easily disassembled or that have a long usage life.
Meanwhile, children should also be taught how to design, create, mend and repair their clothes at school in order to encourage sustainable behaviour.
‘The government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services,’ Creagh added. ‘Consumers must play their part by buying less, mending, renting and sharing more.’
In addition to environmental standards, the EAC also expressed concerns about retailers’ records with workers’ rights with many paying UK workers under the minimum wage or producing clothes in Asian countries where labour costs are low.
The EAC called upon the government to update the Modern Slavery Act and Companies Act to force large retailers to provide regular disclosures about their workers’ standards.
A government spokesperson welcomed the EAC’s report, saying that the government is ‘committed’ to managing the environmental and social impacts of clothing in an era of ‘fast fashion’.
The spokesperson said: ‘We are developing proposals for extended producer responsibility (EPR) for textiles and other priority waste streams, so that producers are responsible for the full net costs of managing their products at the end of their useful life, and to encourage greater reuse and recycling.’
The spokesperson added that the government has written to the CEOs of 17,000 businesses to remind them of their obligations to report on how they are tackling modern slavery in their supply chains. The government will publish its own transparency statement later this year.