Fashion retailers failing to act to reduce environmental and social impact
A group of major UK fashion retailers is failing to take action to promote environmental sustainability and protect its workers, MPs have said.
JD Sports, Sports Direct, TK Maxx, Amazon UK, Boohoo and Missguided are the “least engaged” within the industry, with none of them having signed up to SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) targets to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint, and none of them are using organic or sustainable cotton in their garments, according to an interim report by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).
Of the six, only Boohoo and Sports Direct use recycled material in their products and only TK Maxx offers an in-store take-back scheme, the EAC inquiry found.
None of the same six have signed up to the ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) living wage initiative and only one, Missguided, is a member of ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative), which aims to improve working conditions for workers globally.
The report singles out Amazon UK, a patron of the British Fashion Council, for its “notable” lack of engagement and said: “Though Amazon and TK Maxx are subsidiaries of international corporations that manage their initiatives, the committee believes this does not absolve them of responsibilities.”
It concludes that the current business model for the UK fashion industry is unsustainable and says that exploitative practices must end and that retailers must lead change through labour market and environmental sustainability practices and show leadership through engagement with industry initiatives
The EAC wrote to 16 leading UK fashion retailers in autumn last year asking what they are doing to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.
Next, Debenhams, Arcadia Group and Asda Stores are “moderately engaged”, while Asos, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Primark and Burberry are the “most engaged”, according to the report, with all in the latter group using organic or sustainable cotton and recycled material in their products as well as having in-store take-back schemes.
The committee said it welcomed a commitment by Burberry to end its burning of unsold stock.
Kurt Geiger did not respond to requests for written evidence.
The committee’s inquiry into the “fast fashion” industry comes amid concerns that it encourages over-consumption and generates excessive waste.
EAC chairwoman Mary Creagh 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.
“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.
“We hope this motivates under-performing retailers to start taking responsibility for their workers and their environmental impact.”
The final report in the inquiry will be published in the coming weeks, setting out recommendations to Government for policies to encourage a more transparent, fair and sustainable fashion system.
Amazon declined to comment on the report.
Boohoo said: “This initial report does not fully reflect the policies and procedures and independent initiatives that we have in place, or the extent of our ongoing commitment in the area of sustainability.
“We have a strong framework of practices and policies in place that meet or exceed industry initiatives. 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.”
JD Sports said: “Approximately 90% of the Group’s sales come from products supplied by third party brands, with our two principal brands – Nike and Adidas – internationally recognised as industry leaders with regards to driving sustainability within the design and development of their product ranges.
“As a business, we participate in a number of ethical initiatives which fall outside the narrow list referred to in the Committee’s report. These include ethical labour audits in our supply chain and engaging with Stronger Together on modern slavery matters. The Group will also only work with suppliers who are committed to working to our standards, which follow those set out by the International Labour Organisation.”