New research published on 6 July raises the issue that the UK Government has published only 19 policies in five strategies that tackle the issue of fast fashion to date, despite the fast fashion industry being the second largest user and polluter of water globally and one of the largest contributors to modern slavery. In comparison, research published by the University of Cambridge earlier this year showed that there have been 14 government strategies containing 689 policies to tackle obesity.
The new research was commissioned by environmental campaign group Hubbub. Its published findings included:
· The majority of the policies were proposed in a way that was unlikely to lead to implementation. For example, only five per cent of policies (one policy) contained any details of a cost and/or budget.
· Only 32% of policies proposed actively seek to address the issue of fast fashion, rather than just increasing awareness. The policies were largely introduced in broad strategies aimed at tackling the waste issue rather than directly tackling fast fashion.
· Of the policies that sought to directly tackle fast fashion, they were aimed at providing voluntary guidance and standards or attempts to enable producers to make change, but no stronger incentives, regulations or legislation have been proposed to date.
Despite growing concerns of the environmental and human rights damage caused by the fast fashion industry, says the report, there has been a lack of progress made by UK Governments. According to Oxfam, 13 million items of clothing are sent to landfill in the UK every week which does not support the Government’s waste reduction targets. All of the policies have been proposed by a Government department (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that is not technically responsible for fashion. Fashion as a policy area technically falls under the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The British Fashion Council even says, “our industry’s sponsor government department is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport)”. This lack of cross-departmental work has resulted in the policies having a narrow focus on the relation between fast fashion and waste reduction, with little positive impact on waste reduction.
After the Boohoo scandal in 2018 the Government is more than aware of the wider effect of the industry on workers in the supply chain. The research published today found that despite this, the Government rejected all of the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations including a producer responsibility and due diligence checks. Although the Government did introduce the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recently (June 2021) refused to commit to clear timeframes and actions on strengthening the Act.
Defra has announced plans for a new Waste Prevention Programme that will aim to address the negative environmental impacts of the textiles sector and fast fashion including an Extended Producer Responsibility, but this will not be consulted on until 2022.
Trewin Restorick, CEO of Hubbub, commented: “The huge environmental and social impact of the fashion industry is becoming ever more apparent. If the government is serious about meeting climate targets and ensuring fairer working conditions, then it has to ensure that the industry operates to the highest environmental and social standards. This research reveals a shocking absence of leadership resulting in a lack of impactful and systemic change within the fashion sector.”
Researcher Dolly Theis said: “The findings in this research on UK government fast fashion policy are shocking, particularly when compared to analysis I conducted recently on government obesity policy. Whilst for obesity, the government has proposed 689 policies in England to date, for fast fashion it has only proposed a measly 19 policies. This stark difference in government policy and attention demonstrates that, despite both fast fashion and obesity being massive and important challenges we face today, the governments’ response is not always proportional or sufficient.”