The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has slammed the Government’s refusal to ban clothes from being sent for incineration or landfill and to address modern day slavery in the fashion industry.
The Government has rejected recommendations made in its Fixing Fashion report, despite support from the public and industry and ministers’ pledges to meet zero net emissions by 2050.
The EAC said the Government seemed happy to stick with the status quo that would continue to “trash” the environment and “exploit workers”.
Action put forward in the report included an incineration and landfill ban on clothes, as France has just done, and an extended producer responsibility scheme involving a 1p charge on every garment produced, which was not taken up but the Government suggested it could be considered at a later stage.
Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36m was also rejected. A reduction on VAT on repair services, as is the case in Sweden, was also rejected. And no further action was taken to tackle modern day slavery.
Total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the global textiles industry stands at around 1.2 billion tonnes – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Consumption of new clothing is higher in the UK than any other European country at 26.7kg per person; its nearest counterpart is 16.7kg per person in Germany.
EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. 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.
“Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast-fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”
Up to 35% of all primary source microplastics in the marine environment are from synthetic clothing, the EAC report recorded, alongside the fact that a single 6kg domestic wash had the potential to release as many as 700,000 microplastic fibres.
The EAC also found evidence that textile employees work long hours, “often far beyond legal limits, for poverty wages and in conditions that breach occupational health and safety standards”.
In places such as Leicester, the going rate for a garment worker was £3.50-£4 an hour, and that £5 was a “really top rate” despite being well below the minimum wage. This practice was described as an “open secret” known by central and local government and retailers.
Creagh added: “We presented the Government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.
“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour. But the Government has not accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains.
“This is plain wrong. The EAC will be closely monitoring steps that the Government claims it is taking to address the problems exposed in our report.”
EAC recommendations and Government response
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a 1p charge per garment on producers: Rejected but Government will consider it in development of new EPR; consultation could run as late as 2025
Ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock: Rejected. Government considers positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles
Mandatory environmental targets for retailers with turnovers above £36m: Rejected. Government points to savings made by a voluntary industry-led programme, but fails to address WRAP’s evidence that the impact of increased volumes of clothing sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water
Fashion industry should set out blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing carbon consumption back to 1990 levels: Rejected. Government points to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, co-ordinated by WRAP
Reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not: Rejected. Government will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing.
Use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling: Rejected
Follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services: Rejected. Government says little evidence a VAT reduction has been effective in Sweden
More proactive approach to enforcement of the national minimum wage: Government says HMRC and other enforcement agencies already taking more proactive approach with an increase in budget and NMW officers
Require retailers to release a modern slavery statement, with penalties for companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act: No recommendations relating to modern slavery adopted