UK government confronts leading fashion retailers in the name of sustainability

Last October the UK Government has demanded that British fashion retailers reveal their environmental records in order to state what kind of policies they are following to reduce the carbon footprint of their products.

Monitoring the real commitment of British companies to sustainability is the business of the Environmental Audit Committee, a select authority belonging to the House of Commons. Through this organization, the Parliament of the United Kingdom is able to examine how government department’s policies can promote sustainable development.


The Chair of the Committee, Ms Mary Creagh, recently pointed out that the way in which we produce and discard our clothes has a profound impact on our planet. With this in mind, it is quite clear that fashion and footwear retailers are key players as far as sustainability is concerned.

For this reason, the Committee is collecting information in order to determine whether British main companies are adopting sustainable policies, such as paying an adequate wage to their workers, banning child labour from their supply chains, and using recycled materials.


The disposal of waste and production surpluses is under scrutiny too, because companies are expected to embrace recycling and reduce the risk of pollution (e.g. refraining from using microplastics or incinerating toxic materials).

In order to make this assessment process more significant, the Committee has chosen to involve the UK’s ten leading fashion retailers. These include Marks and Spencer, Primark, Next, Tesco, and the Arcadia Group. All the companies have been asked to submit evidence of their sustainability policies and present the ways in which they are planning to reduce their environmental impact, as well as explain how they audit their performances.


According to Ms Creagh, good practices include favouring “sustainable materials, designing products that are made to last, and encouraging customers to return unwanted clothes for reuse”. Moreover, since clothing production involves water and energy intensive processes, fashion companies should work on reducing the use of chemicals which could result in ocean pollution as well as ultimately enter our food chain.


The deadline for submitting company records expired on October the 12th, and now the Committee could summon some retailers for further questioning no less than in front of the Parliament. The hearings will take place throughout November, and the responses will be easily made public – including possible failures to respond.


In the last 15 years, clothing production has almost doubled. A growing world population results in an increasing demand for clothing, which cannot but seriously impact our planet.

In the words of Ms Creagh, “Clothing production is a global market place and the best answers to its environmental and social impacts will be achieved with collaborative global actions” – and the efforts of leading fashion retailers might turn into a global green revolution.

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