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LONDON – MPs in the UK have called for new regulations to force fashion retailers to “take responsibility for the waste they create.” In a strongly worded final report following its enquiry into the UK fashion industry, the Environmental Audit Committee called for a one penny producer responsibility charge on each item of clothing to pay for better clothing collection and recycling. The report also argues that taxation should be reformed to reward companies that offer clothing repairs and reduce the environmental footprint of their products. It calls for lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes to be in the school curriculum.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh 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.”

Most notably, the report makes clear that the “voluntary approach has failed” on issues of sustainability. It 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. And it concludes that a voluntary approach to improving the sustainability of the fashion industry is failing with just ten fashion retailers signed up to reduce their water, waste and carbon footprints.

On workers’ rights Chair Mary Creagh MP added: “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.”

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.

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