News by Charlie Whitehand

The Environmental Audit Committee questioned leading high street, luxury and online fashion retailers on Tuesday 27th November. This formed part of an inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry.

Representatives from the likes of Primark, ASOS, Missguided, Marks & Spencer, and Burberry were called to give evidence. These retailers have each come under fire for fuelling a throwaway fast fashion culture that has been linked to the exploitation of workers in UK factories. Missguided’s CEO Nitin Passi declined to attend, raising suspicion and creating negative press for the brand. However, the comments from other brands weren’t all that forthcoming either.   Concerns were raised at the Committee’s first hearing about UK garment workers not being paid minimum wage. Politicians questioned how these brands could responsibly sell clothes for prices of £5 or less, considering this is below the minimum hourly wage and that it could contribute to huge environmental waste.

Labour MP Mary Creagh challenged Primark, asking their head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability Paul Lister: “How can
you justify selling t-shirts in your stores for as little as £2 or £3, and how can you be making a profit on those?”

Lister’s response stated that Primark’s lack of advertising allows the brand to keep their prices exceedingly low.

Boohoo’s joint CEO Carol Kane was asked how the company could sell dresses for as little as £5 when the minimum wage was £7.83. In her response she said that this only applied to a small number of dresses intentionally sold at a loss, to drive more traffic to the site.

In addition, designer label Burberry was left out of many of these conversations until the issue of stock burning arose. In July, the BBC published reports stating that the luxury brand destroyed masses of clothes, accessories, and perfume that add up to almost £30 million to stop them from being sold at a cheaper price. Leanne Wood, Burberry’s chief of corporate affairs, shrugged off accusations, telling MPs it was an industry-wide practice and stating they’re “the only luxury business that’s reported it in their accounts…but it is something that happens in the industry.”

Overall many of the comments from the brands did not impress the committee, with Creagh commenting after the hearing: “Evidence we heard today justifies our concerns that the current system allows fashion retailers to mark their own homework when it comes to workers’ rights, fair pay, and sustainability.”

It is clear to see that none of these brands are doing enough to reduce their impact on the environment and the majority are shirking all responsibility for their actions, be it for the planet or for the people they employ.

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