MP asks fashion bosses to reveal their environmental record

Environmental Audit Committee
Waste is just one of the issues in the spotlight

Mary Creagh, MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, has written to the bosses of the top 10 fashion companies in the UK to ask them to reveal what steps they are taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.

The request for evidence will inform the Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, which was launched earlier this year and is investigating how the UK’s fashion industry – that is now worth more than £32bn a year to the UK economy – can reduce its environmental footprint.

“The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet. Fashion and footwear retailers have a responsibility to minimise their environmental footprint and make sure the workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage. We want to hear what they are doing to make their industry more sustainable,” Creagh said.

In her letter Creagh (see below for full transcript) asks fashion bosses a series of questions around fair treatment of garment workers, the use of chemicals and water in the manufacturing process, the typical lifespan of garments produced, what happens to returned items and steps take to reuse and recycled old and unwanted clothing.

Fashion bosses may be called to give evidence to Parliament

She has told the industry leaders from the following ten companies – Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Arcadia Group, Asda, TK Maxx and HomeSense, Tesco, JD Sports Fashion, Debenhams and Sports Direct International – that they may be invited to give evidence in Parliament. She has given a deadline for 12 October for replies and hearings will take place in November and has made it clear that findings will be published including noting those companies which fail to reply.

Her letter follows on from a request for information sent to from experts, campaigners, and sustainable fashion innovators earlier this year. Today, based on the written submissions received, the EAC has published some of its findings.

  • Consumption of new clothing is higher in the UK than any other European country – 26.7kg per capita. This compares to a consumption rate of 16.7 (Germany), 16.0 (Denmark), 14.5 (Italy), 14.0 (Netherlands) and 12.6 (Sweden). (Submission from Textiles Recycling Association)
  • Clothing production has roughly doubled in 15 years. During the past 10 years studies suggest that the number of items of clothing purchased per consumer has increased more than two fold. (Submission from Traid)
  • – Academic research within Leicester, as a UK sourcing hub, found that most garment workers (75-90%) are paid below the National Minimum Wage, do not have employment contracts, and are subject to intense and arbitrary work practices. (British Retail Consortium)
  • – Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing ends up in household residual waste every year, with around 80% going to landfill and 20% incinerated. (Submission from Traid)
  • – There is clear evidence that marine habitats around the UK and globally are being contaminated with synthetic fibres. (Submission from Professor Thompson, University of Plymouth)
  • – A single domestic wash can release in the region of 700,000 fibres to wastewater. Some fibres are intercepted in wastewater treatment but some escape to the environment. (Submission from Professor Thompson, University of Plymouth)
  • – The global fashion industry produced 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015, more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. (Submission from Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
  • – Demand for clothing in the UK drives the production of almost three times more emissions outside of the UK than it drives domestically. (Submission from Soil Association)
  • – Clothing production uses a large volume of water and can result in extensive water pollution. In 2016, the water footprint of clothing in use in the UK was around eight billion cubic metres (with each cubic metre equalling 1,000 litres) of water. (Submission from Traid)
  • – A pair of Levi’s 501 jeans will use 3,781 litres in its full lifecycle, from growing cotton and its manufacture through to consumer care and end-of-life disposal. (Submission from Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
  • – Countries such as China, India and Pakistan, which now supply most of the cotton for UK clothes, are more likely to suffer severe water stress and scarcity. (Submission from Traid)
Environmental Audit Committee
Mary Creagh, MP

Mary Creagh, MP’s letter to fashion bosses in full

Dear [Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Arcadia Group, Asda, TK Maxx and HomeSense, Tesco, JD Sports Fashion, Debenhams and Sports Direct International]

RE: Environmental impact of the fashion industry – request for information

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee is conducting an inquiry into the sustainability of the Fashion Industry, examining how the UK can ensure its clothing industry is both thriving and sustainable. As part of this work, the committee wishes to understand what actions the UK’s largest fashion retailers are taking to reduce the environmental impact of their products and operations.

As you will be aware, there are increasing concerns about the social and environmental footprint of the clothing industry. There are also concerns about fair pay for garment workers. Clothing production involves water and energy intensive processes resulting in pollution and greenhouse gases. It uses chemical dyes, finishes and coatings – some of which are toxic. Synthetic fibres used in clothing result in ocean pollution as plastic microfibres are released when washed, entering the ocean and ultimately our food chain.

The committee is seeking written evidence to inform recommendations to Government on how to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. We would welcome your response to the following questions:

1. Are all the garment workers producing the clothes you sell paid a living wage? What steps have you taken to ensure that child labour is not used in your supply chain?

2. What is the average life cycle of the garments you sell?

3. What steps are you taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the products you sell? Do you audit this? How do you measure progress towards reducing the environmental impact of the products you sell?

4. What recycled materials, if any, do you use in your products? What could the Government do to encourage greater use of recycled materials in clothing production?

5. Is your company taking action to reduce the risk of microplastics being washed into the ocean? If so, what actions have you taken?

6. Are you taking any action to encourage reuse, repair and/or recycling of clothing? What do you recommend your customers do to dispose of your products responsibly?

7. Do you incinerate unsold or returned stock? What percentage of your sales are online? What do you do with e-commerce returns?

Thank you for your attention in this matter. We would appreciate a response by Friday 12th October 2018. Please note that the Environmental Audit Committee intends to publish the responses it receives, including nil returns. Depending on the responses we may subsequently invite selected retailers in to give evidence in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Creagh MP
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee