Fixing fashion? Sustainability and social justice in the clothing sector

Research led by the School of Design has contributed to a report by parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The cross-party committee has been investigating sustainability in the fashion industry and has on the Government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create. Launching a new report today, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability, it suggested that a “one penny producer responsibility charge” on each item of clothing could pay for better clothing collection and recycling. 

The report also called for a reform of taxation to reward companies that offer clothing repairs and reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

University of Leeds research was submitted to the EAC during the course of its information gathering and School of Design lecturer Dr Mark Sumner gave evidence in person on 30 October 2018. The research, carried out by Dr Sumner in collaboration with colleagues Professor Louise Waite (School of Geography) and Dr Matthew Davis and Dr Hinrich Voss (Leeds University Business School) is extensively cited in today’s report.

After the launch of today’s report, the researchers said: “We welcome the publication of the report from the Environmental Audit Committee and the hard work done by its chair, Mary Creagh. The fashion industry is complex and global and has positive as well as many negative impacts on society and the environment. 

“The EAC research has helped to identify a number of responsible brands and organisations which are attempting to address a number of difficult problems associated with materials, the supply chain and workers, as well as the major issue of end of life clothing waste from consumers. 

“The report also identifies that much of the work is based on voluntary agreements, such as the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, but these agreements do not extent far enough into the supply chain and, more importantly, do not engage with all brands and retailers operating in the UK.

“Those brands acting responsibly and significantly are outnumbered by those that appear to be ignoring the issues facing the industry.

“The committee has put forward a number of positive recommendations for the industry, but these must be assessed in terms of the unintended consequences that may arise from these suggestions.

“It is clear that more work must be done by the industry, and those that are acting responsibly need support and encouragement from government and consumers, while those who have a more cavalier approach to business need to be more firmly held to account.”