LONDON – Fashion designer and environmental activist Katharine Hamnett has branded the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation to impose a penny-per-garment tax on fashion firms as ‘stupid’, insisting these companies will find a loophole in which they can justify paying workers less to absorb the added cost.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Hamnett instead called on government to introduce legislature to halt business-as-usual proceedings “because a lot of the brands are not going to do it willingly”.
Hamnett – who has championed sustainability in the textiles industry for decades and introduced signature slogan garments donning phrases such as ‘Save the World’ – admits she wouldn’t have got into the industry if she knew what she knows now.
This as she notes the exploitation of workers in out-sourced countries, a proportion of which are paid below minimum wage, as fashion brands in turn lower their prices to remain competitive in today’s fast fashion climate.
“When I got into it, we didn’t know anything was wrong. Now, you realise there’s something drastically wrong with everything,” she said.
“I don’t think fast fashion will ever go away whilst people can exploit slavery in out-sourced countries. It could all be fixed by the swish of a pen, if we only allowed goods into our blocks that were made to the same standards outside as is mandatory through law inside,” she added, “Environmental law, health and safety standards, human rights… that would fix everything.”
When quizzed on the role of the EAC, and its Fixing Fashion report – in which it posed 18 recommendations geared towards the remediation of environmental and labour practices within the fashion industry’s supply chains – Hamnett was dismissive of a key suggestion, to impose a tax of one penny per garment on fashion brands in order to raise an estimated £35 million for better recycling capabilities.
“Stupid,” the fashion designer said. “It’s like putting a plastic on a septic wound, it doesn’t deal with it.
“Wouldn't it be better to force brands to pay their workers properly, and not discharge toxic chemicals into the environment, rather than making them pay for the privilege to do that?”
Hamnett went on to point out the irony of an industry working to become more sustainable holding frequent fabric fairs and conferences around the world. “We shouldn’t be there we should be doing it with webinars, virtually,” she noted, alluding to the extensive travel and resources used in attending events around the world.
“The thing that would revolutionise fashion is the transport element, is if we actually devolved into hydrogen,” she concluded. “This seems to be the system that holds the most hope for the future for dealing with climate change.”
Chris Remmington for ECO Textile News