“Britain’s fashion industry is exploitative and unsustainable and leading brands must up their game to protect workers and cut waste,” Reuters revealed on Thursday, referencing the findings of a Parliamentary committee’s survey of 16 major brands and/or retailers, ranging from fast fashion giants ASOS and Primark to Burberry and Amazon’s UK arm, which is “part of a [governmental] inquiry into Britain’s $42 billion fashion industry amid concerns it encourages over-consumption, generates excessive waste and underpays workers.”
Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee – the government group charged with overseeing the extent to which government policies and programs are contributing to environmental protection and sustainable development – has relatively recently turned its attention to the nation’s retail sector, which has seen a boom in fast fashion and in consumption in fashion more generally.
According to the Committee’s report, which was released on Thursday, each of the 16 retailers “was asked about a range of actions and initiatives, including the 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 – less engaged (JD Sports, Sports Direct, TK Maxx, Amazon, Boohoo and Missguided), moderately engaged (Next, Debenhams, Topshop-owner Arcadia Group, and Asda Stores),and engaged retailers (ASOS, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Primark, and Burberry) – to “reflect their commitment to sustainable fashion and labor market initiatives.”
These classifications centered largely on the brand/retailers’ efforts to prioritize protections for their workforces, to use organic or sustainable cotton, to limit the emission of hazardous chemicals, and to re-use or recycle unsold stock, as opposed to destroying it, something that Burberry came under fire for just last year. The stalwart British brand has since revealed that it will no longer destroy unsold stock, a move that almost certainly helped catapult it to the top of Parliament’s list do-good brands.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said on Thursday that the Committee “wants to see a thriving fashion industry that employs people fairly, inspires creativity and contributes to the economic success of Britain,” whose citizens buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe.
“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,” she further noted. “We hope this motivates underperforming retailers to start taking responsibility for their workers and their environmental impact.”