This week has seen the publication of the Environmental Audit Committee's report on 'Fixing Fast Fashion'[i]. As this committee comprised of members of the UK parliament, it will hopefully lead to effective legislation in tackling sustainability and ethical issues in the industry. Many British retailers, designers, campaigners and educators gave evidence at the hearings on the various issues involved which have provided the basis for the report. The report focuses on 16 UK retailers and provides a table which rates them in terms of engagement with the issues covered in the hearing. The 6 brands at the bottom of the ratings are doing very little to tackle the ethical and environmental impact of their products and business. For ease of comparison in this blog I have converted the table into points.
There are many different sustainability actions that a fashion brand could be doing. In the table these ranged from using organic or sustainable cotton, implementing ‘take back’ schemes and using recycled materials in their products. The majority of the brands at the top of table (ASOS, M&S, Burberry, Tesco & Primark) were doing all of these important actions whereas the bottom 6 were hardly doing any.. There are also various Sustainability Initiatives that brands can sign up to such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Commitment to Climate Change Risk Reporting and Make Fashion Circular. The 6 bottom brands, bar one, have only committed to the reuse or recycling of unsold stock (presumably because they can make a profit out of it.) The final area the report has in the table is Labour Market Initiatives, including being a member of SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) which four out of the five were and membership of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) which only one was.
SPORTS DIRECT INTERNATIONAL PLC. (4 POINTS)
Coming least worst is no great accolade, but hardly surprising for a company whose business model is to ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’[ii] and who were found in 2013 to be ‘the least ethical big firm in the UK’[iii] by the Observer magazine. They have since been in and out of the press for worker mistreatment[iv] and paying below the minimum wage[v]. Sports Direct managed to cover only one sustainability action; that they do use recycled materials in their produce. They did have some initiatives in place including: Commitment to Climate Change risk reporting, microfiber initiative and the reuse or recycling of unsold stock. They are also only signed up to one out of the 3 Labour market initiatives, namely being a member of SEDEX. The company were also given 13 out of 100 in the Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution[vi].
BOOHOO GROUP (3 POINTS)
Boohoo’s price points are famously low, with some dresses selling for £5 at full price. At the hearings this provoked the question of how it can be possible to pay the national minimum wage with such prices. The company claimed they were loss leading products to draw the customers in. Unethical working conditions were also unsurprisingly uncovered at Boohoo in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme[vii] The Audit committee’s report urged the company to engage with USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) to tackle some of these problems The report also showed that they do use recycled materials in their produce , are a member of SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) and reuse or recycling of unsold stock. Boohoo was also given an F grade in the Behind the Barcode report[viii] and a D grade in the Ethical Fashion Report[ix].
MISSGUIDED LTD. (3 POINTS)
Missguided describe themselves as ‘rapid’ fashion[x] , where samples can be turned around in a day and stock updated on the site every week. This ‘fast fashion on steroids’[xi] is incredibly harmful to the environment due to sheer volume and perceived disposability. However another problem it can create is the violent treatment of workers when they are seen as commodities rather than human beings. This was evidenced in the report by the shocking treatment of Missguided’s auditors by certain factories bosses in Leicester. In the Audit Committee’s table they are the only one of the 6 that is a member of the ETI whose base code covers labour standards and are also members of SEDEX and do reuse or recycle unsold stock.
AMAZON UK (2 POINTS)
Amazon is well known for it’s poor ethics[xii] and their tax avoidance[xiii] is legendary. They only have two points in the Audit committee’s table for being a member of SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) and for the reuse or recycling of unsold stock. They were given 10 out of 100 in the Fashion Transparency Index and appeared in the Global Exchange’s list of ‘Top 10 Corporate Criminal of the Year 2017’[xiv]. I don’t think I need to write more on this. As the biggest retailer in the universe, we all know why we should avoid them. If not, you don’t have to look far to find out why. Ethical Consumer Magazine gave Amazon clothing a very generous score of zero out of 20!
TK MAXX (2 POINTS)
TK Maxx do reuse or recycle unsold stock and have an in-store take back scheme or recycle banks. But Ethical Consumer Magazine gave them a score of only 4.5 out of 20.
JD SPORTS FASHION PLC (1 POINT)
At the bottom of the pile comes the sportswear retailer JD Sports. The most they can manage is to reuse or recycle unsold stock. This brand has also been in the press for poor working conditions[xv] too.
To put into perspective how little the worst brands are doing, the brands at the top of the table were all awarded 11 out of a possible 13 points. So next time you think of getting a bargain from any of these losing 6, maybe think again. Maybe reconsider if you even really need anything? Could you borrow or swap something instead? Or maybe you even have something suitable already lurking at the back of your wardrobe.
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