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MPs blast retailers for ‘failing’ on sustainability

MPs have criticised major fashion retailers for “failing to take action” to promote sustainability in their businesses.

The environmental audit committee (EAC), made the comments in its interim report on the sustainability of the fashion industry, which ranked major UK fashion retailers on their level of engagement with ethical and sustainable issues.

Numerous high street or fast-fashion retailers, including Asos, Boohoo and Missguided were asked to submit evidence on areas such as their use of organic or sustainable cotton, limiting the discharge of hazardous chemicals, and the re-use or recycling of unsold stock. They were then grouped into three categories.

Asos, Marks & Spencer, Burberry, Tesco and Primark were grouped as the “most engaged”, because of factors such as participation in the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) and the use of sustainable and recycled materials.

“Moderately engaged” retailers were Next, Arcadia Group, Asda and Debenhams.

JD Sports, TK Maxx, Sports Direct, Amazon, Boohoo and Missguided all fell into the “least engaged” category. They were criticised for failing to sign up to pledges to reduce carbon, water and waste footprints. Labour market initiatives were also found to be lacking, and Boohoo was singled out for MP’s “concern” over its approach to trade union initiatives.

Amazon was also criticised for its lack of engagement with the committee’s questions, and the report noted the footwear retailer Kurt Geiger did not respond to requests for evidence.

Mary Creagh, chair of the EAC, called the lack of real action in the results “shocking”. The fair pay of workers came in for particular criticism.

“We want to see a thriving fashion industry that employs people fairly, inspires creativity and contributes to the economic success of the UK,” she said. “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 [Action, Collaboration, Transformation], an important global initiative working towards getting a living wage for all garment workers.”

The report concluded that the current business model for UK fashion industry is unsustainable, and that retailers must lead change through labour market and environmental sustainability practices and show leadership through engagement with industry initiatives.

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