Call for 1p levy on fast fashion retailers

MPs are calling for a 1p producer responsibility charge for fashion retailers and say taxation should also be reformed to reward companies that offer clothing repairs and reduce the environmental footprint of their products

The cross-party environmental audit committee’s inquiry into the environmental  impact of ‘fast fashion’ says voluntary attempts to persuade the industry to do more to cut carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution have not worked.

It wants the government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create. The inquiry heard evidence the UK buys more clothes per person than any other country in Europe, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.

Increasing a garment’s lifetime is one of the most effective means of reducing its environmental footprint. Around 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in household bins every year with around 80% of this incinerated and 20% sent to landfill.

Mary Creagh, the committee’s chair, said: ‘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.’

The proposed EPR scheme would pay for better clothing collection and recycling with a one penny charge per garment on producers.  The committee also wants the new EPR scheme to accelerate research by government and industry into the environmental performance of different materials and measures to reduce microfibre pollution.

The committee’s report suggests this charge wold raise £35m for investment in better clothing collection and recycling in the UK. It also wants the government to offer incentives for design for recycling, design for disassembly and design for durability.

Following Burberry’s decision to incinerate unsold stock worth millions last year, the committee is calling on the government to ban incineration or landfilling of unsold stock that can be reused or recycled.

There would be mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36m. This could include extending the proposed tax on virgin plastics to synthetic textile products to stimulate the market for recycled fibres in the UK.

The committee also wants the government to follow Sweden's lead and reduce VAT on repair services.  The report calls on ministers to explore how they can support a new ’sharing economy’ – with hiring, swapping or subscription clothes services.

In addition, the committee raised concerns about the continued use of illegally low pay, the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in the global garment supply chain.

Creagh said: ‘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.’

The committee wants the government to publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. It is also recommended that government work with retailers to increase use of digital supply chain technology for better traceability.

Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability

Report by Pat Sweet

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