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LONDON – New laws and stronger enforcement are needed to better regulate exploitation in the global supply chains of UK apparel retailers. This was one of the calls made as politicians heard further evidence into the Environmental Audit Committee enquiry into the UK fashion industry. Talking at the enquiry, Livia Firth of Eco-Age said: “For us the strongest [thing] we have is the law. If there are the laws, the regulations—as was said before, competition laws and bribery laws—why not apply laws for UK-based companies that produce outside of England to make sure that they pay their workers and they treat their workers the same way they would treat English workers.”

Firth was joined at the hearing by a number of speakers including Claire Bergkamp, sustainability & innovation director, Stella McCartney, Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary, IndustriALL union, and Lucy Siegle, freelance journalist and writer. She added: “Our point of view is that by leveraging and focusing on the regulation, and legal regulation in particular, we can address a lot of the consequences and environmental impact [of the fashion industry].”

Lucy Siegle, a British journalist and writer on environmental issues suggested the three fundamentals of the fast fashion model – low cost, high volume and consequence-free production – need to be the starting point of any conversation on these issues. She told MPs: “We have to tackle each one of those to have a chance of tackling the damage, both environmental and social.”

She went on: “It is also the case that some British brands are behaving very cynically in the marketplace, they really are. We know at the start of this year the ETI reported that a very well-known brand – who I won’t mention because they are pretty litigious – were going around paying suppliers two per cent less than the agreed rate in Bangladesh and they were doing that having just signed up to the Accord, the voluntary code of conduct, the voluntary code of Alliance. If they are going to do that when the spotlight is on them, what are they going to do when our attention is turned on to something else?”

Great point, but we sincerely wish Siegle had used Parliamentary Privilege to name the band in question.

On the issue of how conditions can be improved in global apparel supply chains, Jenny Holdcroft suggested that unilateral action would be ineffective. She told the enquiry: “Certainly our perspective is that you cannot deliver change factory by factory because this industry is too big. You are working in a highly competitive environment where you have factories competing with each other for international orders and brands competing with each other to produce low-cost clothing to sell on the high street. You need to develop something that is not going to disrupt the competitive model in the sense that – as people on the previous panel said – if there are companies trying to do the right thing, we cannot enable them to be outcompeted by people who do not want to.”

The enquiry continues.

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