MPs accuse fashion retailers of ‘shocking’ lack of commitment towards sustainability

Leading fashion retailers across the UK have been accused of a ‘shocking’ lack of commitment towards environmental sustainability by a House of Commons committee.

Last autumn the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) analysed sixteen UK fashion retailers, asking what they are doing to reduce the environmental and social impact of their businesses.

In an interim report published today, the EAC found several retailers to be trailing behind the rest of the fashion industry with JD Sports, Sports Direct, Amazon UK and Boohoo the worst offenders.

The parliamentary committee found that of the retailers above, none had signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) – the industry-led plan to reduce carbon, water or waste – or the international ACT initiative concerning living wages for textile workers.

Chair of the EAC, Mary Creagh MP, said: ‘We want to see a thriving fashion industry that employs people fairly, inspires creativity and contributes to the economic success of the UK.

‘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.’

The EAC asked each retailer about their position on a variety of industry initiatives such as the use of organic and sustainable cotton, limiting the release of hazardous chemicals and re-using or recycling unsold clothes.

It found JD Sports, Sports Direct, Amazon UK, TK Maxx, Boohoo and Missguided to be least engaged with these initiatives, with none using sustainable cotton and only Boohoo and Sports Direct using recycled material in their clothes, although MPs expressed concerns about Boohoo’s trade union stance.

Only one of these six retailers, Missguided, is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, while Amazon was particularly singled out for their lack of engagement with MPs’ questions.

Retailers such as Debenhams, Next and Asda were found to be ‘moderately engaged’ with industry initiatives, while ASOS, Tesco, Primark, M&S and Burberry were praised as being the most engaged.

‘By publishing this information, customers can choose whether they want to spend money with a company that is doing little to protect the environment or promote proper wages for garment workers,’ Creagh added.

‘We hope this motivates underperforming retailers to start taking responsibility for their workers and their environmental impact.’

One of the retailers named has argued that the EAC’s report does not fully reflect its commitment to sustainability in fashion.

While Amazon again declined to comment when invited by Environmental Journal, Boohoo stressed that it is committed to being involved in the discussion.

A representative for Boohoo said: ‘We appreciate that signing up to specific industry initiatives demonstrates commitment, and we are open to revisiting our stance on membership of the initiatives flagged in the report.

‘We participate in many initiatives, including our partnership with reGAIN, an organisation which encourages consumers to recycle clothes.’

Boohoo added that since the hearing last November, the retailer has introduced a line of sustainable recycled shirts and has other recycled clothing lines planned to be introduced this year.

Image credit: Edward Hands


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