Fashion retailers failing to commit to sustainability actions, according to Environmental Audit Committee 

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Following the Environmental Audit Committee asking 16 UK fashion retailers about the actions they are taking to reduce the environmental impact of their clothing items, responses showed that certain stores are falling behind. 

The Committee published the retailers’ answers and analysed the firms according to their commitment to environmental sustainability and labour market initiatives.  

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Retailers including JD sports, Sports Direct, Amazon UK and Boohoo were found to be lagging behind the rest of the sector. 

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None of the above retailers have signed up to SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) to help 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 debating the ‘fast fashion’ business model, following concerns that it encourages over consumption and produces excessive waste. 

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.” 

Each retailer was asked about a series 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: less engaged, moderately engaged and engaged. 

Companies in the least engaged category included JD Sports, Sports Direct, TK Maxx, Amazon, Boo, and Missguided: 

  • None of these retailers signed up to SCAP targets or used organic or sustainable cotton in their products. Of the six, only Boohoo and Sports Direct use recycled material in their items, and only TK Maxx offers an in-store take back scheme 
     
  • These retailers are not signed up to the ACT living wage initiative, and only Missguided is a member of ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative). However, the Committee has acknowledged efforts that Missguided has made to improve working practices in Leicester 
     
  • Amazon UK was singled out for its lack of engagement with the questions from the Committee, and though the firm and TK Maxx are subsidiaries of international corporations that manage their initiatives, the Committee believed that this does not excuse them from responsibilities.  

Moderately engaged retailers include Next, Debenhams, Arcadia Group and Asda Stores: 

  • Each retailer has taken some steps in addressing environmental issues. Arcadia and Next are both signed up to SCAP targets 
  • Next does not run a take-back scheme for discarded clothes, and has cited cost as a barrier for this, while all other retailers in this group do. All, excluding Asda, make use of organic cotton 
  • All excluding Asda are members of ACT, and all except for Arcadia are members of ETI 
  • The Committee noted that Debenhams deserves credit for the range of programmes it is involved with. 

The most engaged retailers include ASOS, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Primark and Burberry: 

  • All retailers in this group use organic or sustainable cotton, and recycled material in their products, as well as having in-store take back schemes. Burberry is the only one not signed up to the SCAP targets 
  • The Committee has welcomed Burberry’s commitment to end the incineration of unsold stock, and acknowledged that the firm is engaged with other sustainability initiatives 
  • All retailers are members of the ETI, and ASOS, Tesco, and Primark are members of ACT 
  • The Committee welcomed ASOS for becoming the first online retailer to sign a Global Framework Agreement with IndustriALL, committing to the highest standard on trade union rights, health and safety and labour relations. 

The report concluded that the current business model for the UK fashion sector is unsustainable, and exploitative practices must stop. It found that retailers must lead change through labour market, sustainability and engagement with industry initiatives.  

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