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Government rejects MPs’ sustainable fashion guidance

The government has rejected all recommendations made by the environmental audit committee’s report on the sustainability of the fashion industry.

The report, published in February, called on the government to “end the era of throwaway fashion” through multiple recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices, including introducing a 1p charge on each item of clothing to pay for better clothing collection and recycling.

All of the recommendations were rejected.

Environmental audit committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.

“The government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill. Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

On workers’ rights Creagh added: “We presented the government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.

“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour, however the government hasn’t accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains.

“This is plain wrong. The committee will closely monitor steps that the government claims it is taking to address the problems exposed in our report.”

The government said it will consider the report’s 1p per garment recommendation when it is developing new Extended Producer Responsibility schemes but provided no detail on when the scheme will be introduced. Consultation could run as late as 2025.

The government said it would not impose a landfill ban for unsold stock.

When challenged that the fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero-emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels, the government said it rejected this, and pointed to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), co-ordinated by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) with the industry working towards targets to reduce carbon emissions, water and waste.

On the recommendation that the scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not, the government said it will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing.

The government’s failure to adopt the recommendations will come as a blow to the fashion industry, which is looking for support for its efforts to become more sustainable. 

Exclusive Drapers research, published two weeks ago, found that most (92.2%) fashion retail businesses felt there was a commercial imperative to become more sustainable and 91.6% had noted growing interest in sustainability from their customers.

It found widespread support for the recommendations of the environmental audit committee, and respondents called on government for support, in the form of incentives and sanctions. Read Drapers’ research here.

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Join the world’s leaders in the field at Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2020 in London on 11 March.

The event is for fashion brands and retailers, clothes manufacturers, supply chain experts, innovators and anybody for whom sustainability matters. We are creating a programme of hard-hitting talks, projects showcasing sustainability in action, and start-up innovation that is pushing the boundaries of the possible.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Incredibly short sighted yet entirely predictable response from a government that's been 'out of touch' on so many things for more than a decade.

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  • By the time they get round to this will be too late and cost too much, with companies in the meantime reaping the profits of this short sightedness which will massively effect the industry in later years

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  • This is an outrage. It's all about the money... never mind the planet!
    I am so disappointed to live in a country that is so out of touch and to have a government that are so spineless. Why can't the UK lead the world for once?
    Why did they bother to set up the committee is they weren't prepared to act on its findings?.. waste of time and tax payers money!

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  • David Tyler

    I can understand the disappointment felt by the environmental audit committee, but the situation is not nearly as dark as suggested. The comment that the Government is “is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers” is not warranted by their response to the committee. I’ll give just one example: the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This is an issue that interests me, as until recently there has been no realistic estimate of how much it would cost to recycle unwanted textiles by turning them into products with a market value. Participation in the Resyntex project has allowed data on costs of collection, sorting and processing to be assessed. The project has come to an end with a pilot plant in Slovenia capable of processing 100 tons of textile waste a year. A colleague and myself have used to cost data to assess what a realistic EPR levy would be. We presented this at last year’s Textile Institute World Conference and concluded that light clothing and underwear would need to contribute about 5p per garment to cover the costs of recycling. The figure for a jacket or coat is about 50p. We anticipate that these levy figures are necessary to interest investors to build the necessary plants and run profitably, but economies of scale and synergistic process improvements should allow these figures to reduce with time. Compare this with the EAC’s recommendation of 1p – which is unrealistically low. There is a case for moving towards implementation based on good research. The Government’s response is to say: “in our Resources and Waste Strategy we committed to reviewing and consulting on measures such as EPR and product standards for five new waste streams by 2025, with two these to be completed by 2022.” One of these waste streams is textiles.

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  • darren hoggett

    The clothing Industry has to get its own house is in order, as I've been talking to customers for 40 years and not a single one has ever mentioned any environmental concerns regarding the product they are buying. If they want it, they'll buy it.

    The most environmentally friendly thing it can do is stop making far more product than there is demand. Stores and brand will have to act accordingly. This would then lower stock levels, become more efficient and in theory lead to less discounting. Win - Win.

    The consumer also needs to buy less, but buy well, as almost everybody to a lesser and greater extent buys far more clothing than they will ever need.

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  • I have one rather large store group which for each PO ships almost 40 kgs of labels from China to Heathrow to the Midlands, which then goes back to Sri Lanka by air, to be attached to garments which in turn is shipped back to the UK by sea. All because "label producer" cannot ship from China to Sri Lanka.

    sustainability needs to be enforced from within the business & industry rather than market forces following the latest fad

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