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UK government rejects calls for fast fashion retailers to address impact on the environment

The Independent logo The Independent 18/06/2019 Sarah Young
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A report by MPs calling for fast fashion retailers to address their impact on the environment and working conditions has been reject by the government.

Earlier this year, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) asked the government to introduce moves to force fast fashion retailers to do more to tackle issues like forced labour, environmental damage, and excessive waste in the industry.

The MPs made 18 recommendations including reforming tax laws and requiring firms to contribute towards the clean-up costs for waste garments.

However, in a formal response to the report published on Tuesday, the government has refused to accept any of the committee's recommendations.

According to Google, the fashion industry accounts for 20 per cent of wastewater and 10 per cent of carbon emissions globally.

In addition, a recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – a registered charity that campaigns for economic change – found that clothes account for half a million tons of non-biodegradable microfibers reaching the oceans every year, the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles.

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MPs on the EAC advised that a charge of 1p for each garment was needed to raise £35m a year for better clothing collection and sorting.

But the government has failed to commit to this, instead stating that the proposal might be considered by 2025.

The EAC also suggested that there should be a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold clothes that can be reused or recycled.

However, the government said: “We believe that positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban.”

Furthermore, the MPs recommended Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) membership should be a mandatory requirement for fashion firms with an annual turnover of more than £36m

Currently, just 11 fashion retailers have signed up to the voluntary SCAP – a scheme run by environmental organisation WRAP that works to minimise the environmental impact of clothes.

Following an in-depth investigation into the fast fashion sector earlier this year, the EAC concluded that SCAP’s voluntary approach has so far “failed”.

It found that textile production creates an estimated 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

However, the government rejected this call in favour of its strategy to “encourage the wider industry” to take part in the scheme.

EAC chair Mary Creagh accused the government of being “out of step” with the public mood.

“Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create,” Creagh said.

“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.

Creagh added that she believes ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action needs to be taken to change the fast fashion business model.

The government said in its response: “We recognise how crucial it is for the environmental and social impacts to be well managed, particularly in this era of fast fashion.

“In our response we explain the action already being taken in respect of clothing and outline our [existing] plans for the future.”

A recent survey for the fashion trade publication Drapers reported that 85 per cent of 370 brands, retailers and suppliers thought the government was not doing enough to help the fashion industry become more sustainable.

What’s more, 69 per cent of participants said they supported the concept of a 1p garment levy.

More than half (60 per cent) added that the main barrier to becoming more sustainable is that it drives up costs, with 36 per cent saying shoppers are disinclined to pay for sustainable fashion.

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