Clothing retail bosses are under scrutiny over “fast fashion” – high street knock-offs of catwalk couture only designed to last for a few months.
MPs are worried that “fast fashion” has led to a rise in the amount of clothes being bought, leading to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing being dumped each year and poor working conditions in UK garment factories.
Westminster’s Environmental Audit Committee has asked bosses at 10 leading UK clothes shops to reveal their environmental record as part of an investigation.
Committee chairwoman Mary Creagh has written to bosses at companies including Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Tesco, Asda and Sports Direct.
She said: “The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet.
“Fashion and footwear retailers have a responsibility to minimise their environmental footprint and make sure the workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage.
“We want to hear what they are doing to make their industry more sustainable.”
Responses will help the committee investigate how the UK’s fashion industry – worth £28 billion a year to the UK economy – can reduce its environmental footprint.
Expert evidence published by the committee shows people in the UK buy more new clothes than any other European country – almost double that of consumers in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands – and purchase twice as much as 10 years ago.
The committee’s latest report also shows ocean pollution from synthetic fibres, as a single washing machine load can release 700,000 fibres to wastewater, according to research from the University of Plymouth.
Up to 90% of garment workers are paid below the National Minimum Wage, do not have employment contracts, and are subject to intense and arbitrary work practices, the committee was told by from the British Retail Consortium.
The global fashion industry produced more CO2 emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined in 2015, according to a submission from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
The committee expects to invite some of the biggest retailers into Parliament for further questioning from November.