Fashion producers should be charged a penny per garment to fund better clothing collection and recycling in a bid to end the era of throwaway fashion, a cross-party group of MPs has suggested.
The Environmental Audit Committee urged ministers to make retailers take responsibility for the waste they create and reward companies that take positive action.
In a report, they recommended “clear economic incentives” to encourage retailers to “do the right thing”, and suggested the government reform taxation to reward companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
They proposed extending the tax on virgin plastics, due to come into force in 2022, to synthetic textile products to encourage the use of recycled fibres. And they called on ministers to explore how they can support hiring, swapping or subscription clothes services.
The committee said an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for textiles could raise £35 million for better clothing collection and sorting, which in turn could create new “green” jobs.
Their report, entitled Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability, also recommended retailers with a turnover of more than £36 million be made to comply with environmental targets, as the voluntary approach to improving sustainability is “failing”.
And they noted that consumption of new clothing in the UK is estimated to be higher than any other European country – at 26.7kg per person.
MPs on the committee also urged the government to change the law to require companies to perform due diligence checks across their supply chains to ensure their products are made without child or forced labour.
They pointed to labour exploitation in the UK, and said the “Made in the UK” label should mean workers are paid at least the minimum wage.
In a summary to the report, MPs wrote: “Forced labour is used to pick cotton in two of the world’s biggest cotton producing countries, Turkmenistanand Uzbekistan. Labour exploitation is also taking place in the UK. ‘Made in the UK’ should mean workers are paid at least the minimum wage.
“But we were told it is an open secret that some garment factories in places like Leicester are not paying the minimum wage. This must stop. But if the risk of being caught is low, then the incentive to cut corners is high.”
Labour’s Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the committee, said: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.
“In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and underuse clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140 million worth going to landfill, every year.”
She added: “Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility scheme.
“The government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services.
“Children should be taught the joy of making and mending clothes in school as an antidote to anxiety and the mental health crisis in teenagers. Consumers must play their part by buying less, mending, renting and sharing more.”