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MPs launch inquiry into top fashion retailers

Some 10 of the UK’s leading fashion retailers have been asked to submit evidence on the steps being taken to reduce social and environmental impact.

The chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP has written to the chief executives of a number of retail chains. This includes Asda, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Primark, Next, Tk Maxx and HomeSense, Tesco, JD Sports, Sports Direct and Arcadia.

The request for evidence will inform the committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, which is investigating how the UK’s fashion industry – that is worth £28bn a year to the UK economy – can reduce its environmental footprint.

The committee said the demand for fast fashion was “fuelling the need for quick turnarounds in the supply chain”, leading to poor working conditions in UK factories.

The consumption of clothing in the UK is higher than any other European country and clothing production has “roughly doubled” in 15 years. Demand for clothing in the UK drives the production of almost three times more emissions outside of the UK than it drives domestically.

The fashion retailers will be asked if recycled materials are used, if garment workers are paid the living wage and how the use of child labour is prohibited. The companies will also be asked to provide evidence on how long clothes are kept and whether unsold and returned stock is incinerated.

Creagh 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.”

A spokesperson for Debenhams said the retailer intended to participate in the study and “ensure that customers can be confident that they are shopping with a responsible business”. It added it looked forward to sharing the steps it was taking to reduce inequalities and reduce the impact on the environment.

A spokesperson for Marks and Spencer said it had responded to the letter and recognised the need for action in 2007 when it launched its eco and ethical programme, Plan A. They said: “As a result, we are a zero to waste landfill business, our operations are carbon neutral, the vast majority of our cotton is sourced to Better Cotton Initiative standards and we recycle three million garments a year with Oxfam. Most importantly, we offer great quality clothes for our customers that are made to last.”

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