Environmental Audit Committee Call for Clothing Tax ‘To End Era of Throwaway Fashion’
On the final day of London Fashion Week (19th Feb) the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee have compiled a report proposing a one penny producer responsibility charge per item of clothing and incentives for companies that offer garment repair services. The report calls on the Government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh (pictured far right next to Livia Firth) MP said: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.
“In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we over-consume and under use clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.
“Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. The Government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services. Children should be taught the joy of making and mending clothes in school as an antidote to anxiety and the mental health crisis in teenagers. Consumers must play their part by buying less, mending, renting and sharing more.”
On workers’ rights she further commented:
“Fashion retailers have ‘chased the cheap needle around the planet’, commissioning production in countries with low pay and little trade union representation. Behind the perfect Instagram profiles and the pristine shop fronts of our fashion retailers the reality is shocking. Illegally low pay, the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in the global garment supply chain.
“We recommend that the Government strengthen the Modern Slavery Act to require large companies to ensure forced labour is not in their supply chains. Retailers including Foot Locker and Versace are failing to comply with the Modern Slavery Act. Company law must be updated to require modern slavery disclosures by 2022. Companies must report, or face a fine.”
Committee’s key recommendations
- Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million;
- A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers;
- The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
- The report calls on the Government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies.
- The Government should follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services.
- Lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes should be in the school curriculum
- The Government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act.
- The fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels.
The report warns that although some parts of the fashion industry are making progress in reducing their carbon and water consumption, these improvements have been outweighed by the increased volumes of clothing being sold.
It concludes that a voluntary approach to improving the sustainability of the fashion industry is failing with just 10 fashion retailers signed up to reduce their water, waste and carbon footprints.
It recommends that compliance with WRAP’s Sustainability Clothing Action Plan targets should be made mandatory for all retailers with a turnover of more than £36 million as a ‘licence to practice’.
It is also recommended that Government work with retailers to increase use of digital supply chain technology for better traceability.
Lee Lucas, principal of the Fashion Retail Academy, added his views:
“It’s important that retailers are taking steps to cut back on their carbon footprints.
“Schemes that incentivise customers to return to stores with used clothes, such as M&S offering vouchers for second-hand garments, are helping to change the psychology around how we shop.
“Incentives like this are clearly having an impact as customers (13%) say they are now more likely to choose expensive, more durable, items over cheaper clothing.
“While sustainable clothing brands, such as Patagonia, have become more popular in recent years, the real sign of this sea-change in customer and store mentality is how sustainable clothing is becoming more available at high street prices.
“It is vitally important that we change our attitudes towards how we use and dispose of clothing, but any new schemes must ensure the costs don’t weigh too heavily on already stretched retailers.”