MPs launch inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry

Sustainability

The Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into the social and environmental impact of “fast fashion” and the wider clothing industry.

Led by Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the inquiry will examine the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. It will also look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution reduced.

“Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires toxic chemicals and produces climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain and into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end of life clothing. Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable,” Creagh said.

Fast fashion, often viewed by consumers as “disposable” fashion has driven much of the growth in the British fashion, and global fashion, industries. In 2015 the British Fashion Council released a report to say that fashion contributed £28.1bn to national GDP, up from £21bn in 2009.

However the use of resources such as raw materials, water and fossil fuels during the manufacturing process means this growth is taking its toll on the environment. A 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, called A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future and launched with the support of designer Stella McCartney, found that if the global fashion industry continues on its current growth path, it could use more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050.

Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney and Dame Ellen Macarthur

The inquiry will be looking into manufacturing practices as well as the care of garments since research has found that plastic microfibres in clothing are released when they are washed, and enter rivers, the ocean and the food chain. It will also examine manufacturing in the UK and instances of poor working conditions as a result of the need for fast turnarounds.

The Committee invites submissions on some or all of the following points by 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018. These submissions can be made via the inquiry’s page on Parliament’s website.

Environmental impact of the fashion industry

  • Have UK clothing purchasing habits changed in recent years?
  • What is the environmental impact of the fashion supply chain? How has this changed over time?
  • What incentives have led to the rise of “fast fashion” in the UK and what incentives could be put in place to make fashion more sustainable?
  • Is “fast fashion” unsustainable?
  • What industry initiatives exist to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry?
  • How could the carbon emissions and water demand from the fashion industry be reduced?

Waste from fashion

  • What typically happens to unwanted and unwearable clothing in the UK? How can this clothing be managed in a more environmentally friendly way?
  • How much unwanted clothing is landfilled or incinerated in the UK each year?
  • Does labelling inform consumers about how to donate or recycle clothing to minimise environmental impact, including what to do with damaged clothing?
  • What actions have been taken by the fashion industry, the Government and local authorities to increase reuse and recycling of clothing?
  • How could consumers be encouraged to buy fewer clothes, reuse clothes and think about how best to dispose of clothes when they are no longer wanted?

Sustainable Garment Manufacturing in the UK

  • How has the domestic clothing manufacturing industry changed over time? How is it set to develop in the future?
  • How are Government and trade envoys ensuring they meet their commitments under SDG 8 to “protect workers’ rights” and “ensure safe working environments” within the garment manufacturing industry? What more could they do? Are there any industry standards or certifications in place to guarantee sustainable manufacturing of clothing to consumers?