UK enquiry singles out sustainability laggards

brett mathews | 31st January 2019

LONDON – A UK Parliamentary enquiry has singled out major fashion retailers failing to promote environmental sustainability or protect their workers. The Environmental Audit committee’s interim report claims Amazon UK, JD Sports, Sports Direct and TK Maxx, have not taken any action to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint, while none use organic or other types of sustainable cotton.

In autumn 2018 the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to 16 leading UK fashion retailers, among them M&S, ASOS and Boohoo, asking what they are doing to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell.

Having gathered their answers, the committee claims the ‘least engaged’ are JD Sports, Sports Direct, TK Maxx, Amazon, Boohoo and Missguided.

Classed as moderately engaged are Next, Debenhams, Arcadia Group, and Asda, while most engaged are said to be ASOS, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Primark and Burberry.

Amazon UK, a patron of the British Fashion Council, is singled out for its ‘notable’ lack of engagement with questions put by the Committee. Though Amazon and TK Maxx are subsidiaries of international corporations that manage their initiatives, the Committee argues this does not absolve them of responsibilities.

MPs were also concerned about Boohoo’s approach to trade union representation. “We are not aware of the existence of unions within our supply chain,” said Boohoo’s submission to the enquiry.

In it submission, Boohoo also claimed its £5 ‘E5’ dress can make a profit. The business says: “We understand from our suppliers that it takes approximately 8 minutes to make a dress of this simple design. This means that between seven or eight dresses can be made in a one-hour period. With fabric costs being minimal this allows suppliers to produce dresses at very little cost and make a profit on these garments.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said of the report findings: “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.”