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Parliamentary Committee Says Major Fashion Retailer's Performance On Sustainability Agenda Is ‘Shocking’

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31 January 2019

In autumn 2018 the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to sixteen leading UK fashion retailers, among them M&S, ASOS and Boohoo, asking what they are doing to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes the retailers’ answers, and analyses companies according to their commitment to environmental sustainability and labour market initiatives. A group of retailers including JD Sports, Sports Direct, Amazon UK and Boohoo were found to be lagging behind the rest of the industry.

None of these have signed up to SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint or the ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) labour rights and living-wage agreement.

The Interim Report is published in the sustainability of the fashion industry inquiry which is considering the ‘fast fashion’ business model amid concerns that it encourages over consumption and generates excessive waste.

Chair's Comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chair 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.

“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 underperforming retailers to start taking responsibility for their workers and their environmental impact.”

Report Findings

Each retailer 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.

Retailers were then grouped into three categories that reflect their commitment to sustainable fashion and labour market initiatives. These are: less engaged, moderately engaged and engaged retailers.

The Committee noted that retailer Kurt Geiger did not respond to requests for written evidence.

Least Engaged: JD Sports; Sports Direct; TK Maxx; Amazon; Boohoo; and Missguided

Sustainability action: none of the ‘least engaged’ retailers have signed up to SCAP targets to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint and none of them use organic or sustainable cotton in their garments. Of the six only Boohoo and Sports Direct use recycled material in their products. Only TK Maxx offers an in store take back scheme.

Labour market initiatives: none of the six retailers are signed up to the ACT 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 Committee acknowledges efforts Missguided has made to improve working practices in Leicester.

Amazon UK, a patron of the British Fashion Council, is singled out for its ‘notable’ lack of engagement with questions put by the Committee. Though Amazon and TK Maxx are subsidiaries of international corporations that manage their initiatives, the Committee believes this does not absolve them of responsibilities. MPs were concerned about Boohoo’s approach to trade union representation.