Hannah Fuchs discusses what innovative solutions the Government should seek to implement to tackle fast fashion.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), one of the UK Parliament’s Commons Select Committees, recently called for evidence on how to tackle fast fashion. On behalf of the campaign “News to Reuse”, a youth-led anti-fast-fashion campaign that sits within the social enterprise “I have a voice”, I wrote a response to the EAC to introduce policy recommendations.
According to the World Bank, the fashion industry comprises 10 percent of all annual global carbon emissions. Without intervention, emissions from the fashion industry will increase by 50 percent by 2030. According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme, roughly 350,000 tons of clothes go into landfills each year. It is urgent that the fashion industry drastically changes the way it produces clothing, waste management systems do more to recycle textiles, and consumers are encouraged to avoid fast fashion as it is not sustainable.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, second-hand shops would benefit the UK’s economy and those households who have been particularly affected by the pandemic’s negative economic impact. On the one hand, the pandemic has caused an exceptional amount of fashion waste, with 73 percent of British fashion brands experiencing cancelled orders from wholesale partners. UK clothing sales fell by 34 percent in March 2020 alone, resulting in an unprecedented inventory crisis and fashion waste. On the other hand, the bottom three deciles of UK households have lost a significant amount of household income due to job losses and being furloughed. This makes it more difficult to afford suitable and warm clothes, especially now during the cold season. “News to Reuse” urges the Government to allocate financial subsidies to second-hand stores and independent companies which focus on sustainable fashion in order to tackle fast fashion and the fashion waste crisis. Furthermore, the UK should follow France in introducing a ban on throwing away unsold stock. Companies should be required to either donate these items for charity purposes, or recycle them for their future products. That way, companies will also receive an incentive to use textiles that can be wholly recycled. At the same time, this will ensure that the UK is shifting to a more sustainable economy and supporting the households hit hardest by Covid-19.
As part of our policy response, “News to Reuse” introduced the concept of QR codes on clothing labels to UK policymakers. When consumers scan the code, they would be able to see in which factories and countries the clothes were made and the environmental footprint of the clothing production. Over time, this could include a quality mark or rating system that provides consumers with assurances that the working conditions throughout the supply chain meet a pre-agreed definition of human and workers’ rights and certain sustainability criteria. For example, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking Alliance provides a comparative snapshot year-on-year of the largest companies on the planet, looking at the policies, processes, and practices they have in place to systematise their human rights approach and how they respond to serious allegations. The results and methodology are made a public good for all stakeholders. This could be a future model for clothing production companies and their global supply chains.
Clothing companies such as Another Tomorrow and ASOS have already introduced the QR code on labels to inform their customers about the clothes’ country of origin, carbon footprint, and the story behind the design. However, more information needs to be available in order to hold companies as well as governments accountable.
An independent public body comprised of elected politicians, and people with experience in fashion as well as human rights, should scrutinise the information that companies provide through the QR code. That way, the UK will uphold its responsibility to protect human rights internationally and not allow companies to profit off of forced labour and environmentally harmful production processes. Only if companies are being held accountable by the public through transparency and independent and thorough scrutiny will they feel the urgency to transition to a more sustainable and ethical supply chain. Jaycee Price, vice president of global footwear sourcing and manufacturing at Nike said, “We all know that there are limitations to audits. Audits are a moment in time.” However, with QR codes, the information would have to be available and justifiable at all times.
QR codes on products give consumers the ability to make informed decisions about their purchases. Every purchase is a vote on what consumers want on store shelves. If people clearly see the products they are buying are made from conflict-ridden oil or forced labour, and no longer have to rely on hearsay and marketing anymore, fewer consumers will choose to buy these products.
If you would like to join and urge the Government to tackle fast fashion, you can sign the News to Reuse petition, and write your MP to sign an Early Day Motion to discuss this topic in Parliament. The full policy response to the Environmental Audit Committee can be found here.
Hannah Fuchs graduated with an MSc in EU Politics from The London School of Economics. She is the co-chair of the Young Fabians International Network and has contributed to two Young Fabians pamphlets on AI in global competition and foreign policy, and why the UK should implement a four-day working week. She is the Policy and Public Affairs Officer at ‘I have a voice' and the Communications Officer at the charity Lifelites. She tweets at @hannahlrf_