UK Government Fails to Adopt Recommendations of Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion Report

It seems as though little time has passed since January when the Environmental Audit Committee published their Fixing Fashion report detailing the inquiry into the sustainability of the British Fashion industry.

In a bid to hold the British Fashion Industry to account and to incite fashion as a force for good, the Fixing Fashion report addressed both environmental, social and economic concerns with formulated evidence from academics, climate scientists and industry experts. It pinpointed the shortcomings of fashion retailers global value chains and provided 18 salient recommendations for how we can move forward.

Yet, despite this pivotal inquiry, it is perplexing to witness the rejection of all key and salient policy recommendations on taxation, legislation and methods to incentivise market players both big and small. This contradictory rhetoric has been delivered to the public in the space of less than ten days, where the UK Government under Theresa May has committed to a zero-carbon economy by 2030.  

This also comes at a time when WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, a method for suggested policy solutions for government, has faced significant cuts to its funding provided by volunteers.

One can pinpoint the formidably gentle approach of the government’s actions to be driven by its desire to curtail antagonising the waning British high street with dominant retailers including the likes of Arcadia narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

Protecting the industry is vital as it represents big business in the UK. It contributes around £30 billion ($38 billion) to the British economy each year and the retail sector is the country’s largest private-sector employer.

But does this justify the government’s response and the rejection of methods to mitigate environmental issues and overlooking the need to uphold the Modern Slavery Act? Let us delve further.

In a statement, Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh said “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,” “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.”

She spoke of how these rebuffs demonstrate that the government are able to tolerate practices that exploit workers and create environmental degradation. It is symbolic in depicting how policy makers are out of sync with the increasingly conscious public who are stricken by the fact we send over 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill or incineration annually.

Here’s a quick summary of the Government’s response and main rejections to the EAC’s Fixing Fashion Report key recommendations:

  • 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.

This was rejected as it highlighted that the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan co-ordinated by WRAP was sufficient.

  • Ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled

The government cites that other positive approaches can be taken as opposed to simply imposing a landfill ban.

  • The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not

This was rejected on the principle that the government is focusing on taxing single use plastic in packaging as opposed to clothing.

  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million

This was not accepted by the government as it views that environmental savings led by voluntary industry led programmes are sufficient despite the fact any efficiency savings in energy, GHG emissions and water are vastly surpassed by the increasing volumes produced in fashion manufacturing supply chains. 

  • A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers

The government will not enforce this as it stated it could be considered within a new Extended Produce Responsibility Scheme which is yet to begin its consultation phase and may be introduced as late as 2025. That’s five years before we are set to hit our targets as per the 2015 Paris Agreement.

  • The Government should follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services.

It will not take this up, reasoning that there is little proof it has been effective or that its advantages have been passed on to consumers.

  • More proactive approach to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage with greater resourcing for HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team to increase inspection and detection work

Our government claim that HMRC and enforcement agencies are already proactive in monitoring and imposing national minimum wage standards (Despite what we know about slave labour taking place in Leicester where 10,000 textile workers produce more than 1 million items of clothing/week).

  • 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.

Shockingly, there was no adoption by the government of the recommendations to address modern slavery.

So where does this leave us? The Environmental Audit Committee have promised to meticulously follow the government’s next steps. As a final thought – one must ask, can we really afford to let the leaders of our country neglect the sustainability of this leading creative industry as it has the potential to harness and contribute to achieving the sustainable development goal?

The amalgamation of all tangents of the British Fashion industry which employs over 890,000 is likely to suffer at the hands of a government including the Environment Minister which is too distracted by personal battles for victory in the latest Tory leadership contest. Little do they realise, the sheer neglect of issues including modern slavery taking place on home soil as well as the destruction of natural capitalism occurring due to the ever churning machine that is fast fashion, is becoming increasingly urgent.

Actions by those in power appear to be counterintuitive as they seek approval by setting net zero emissions targets yet fail to aid and abet the industry and consumer attitude that contributes so heavily to these challenges.  

“The 18 Recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion Report provided clear guidelines to a government that admitted to a climate emergency only last month. It is disappointing that despite this, the government has not taken up any of the recommendations as a benchmark for real change in their response.” – Tamara Cincik, CEO and Founder of Fashion Roundtable

You can find the link to the letter template to email your MP, reminding them of your constitutional right to ask them to support you, as their voting constituent here. To find your MP, please click here.

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