Environmental concerns and evidence of illegally low wages in parts of the fashion industry.
Online “fast-fashion” retailers have been called to answer questions before parliament about their business models in response to environmental concerns and evidence of illegally low wages in parts of the industry.
The environmental audit committee of MPs has requested that Boohoo, Missguided and Asos, three of the biggest online-only retailers in the UK, give evidence at a hearing this month about fast fashion. It has also sent letters asking a series of detailed questions to these three retailers, as well as Amazon and PrettyLittleThing. Online fast-fashion brands have enjoyed success catering to what Boohoo calls the “aspirational thrift” of young millennials.
They sell clothes that are often made close to home so that they can be produced more quickly in response to customer trends. “Our recent evidence hearing raised alarm bells about the fast-growing online-only retail sector,” said Mary Creagh, the committee’s chair. “Low-quality £5 dresses aimed at young people are said to be made by workers on illegally low wages and are discarded almost instantly, causing mountains of non-recycled waste to pile up.”
The committee’s move follows an investigation by the Financial Times this year into garment factories in the UK city of Leicester, a popular manufacturing hub for many fast-fashion brands. Last week, the Environmental Audit Committee asked the FT to give evidence about its investigation at a parliamentary hearing. Recommended FT Magazine Dark factories: labour exploitation in Britain’s garment industry The FT found that part of the sector ignored employment law, with workers paid as little as £3.50 an hour when the minimum wage for over-25s is £7.83.
A report by the government’s director of labour market enforcement described a “perceived culture of impunity” in parts of the city’s garment industry. Retailers which source from Leicester insist that they audit their suppliers to make sure they do not exploit workers, but manufacturers say that unauthorised subcontracting is common.
A number of factory owners told the FT that the low prices demanded by many retailers made it impossible for them to improve standards. Some retailers such as Asos, which is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, have tried to improve standards in Leicester and have sharply reduced the number of suppliers they use in the city.
The committee is also concerned that the shift towards very low-cost fast fashion is leading to a throwaway clothes culture, which is generating excessive waste. “We want to know that they are fully compliant with employment law, that garments have a decent lifespan, and that profit is not put before environmental damage,” Ms Creagh said. Missguided said: “We’ll be writing to the committee. While we’re a relatively small player in UK fashion, we’re very proud of what we’ve been doing through our membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative to address industry issues.” Asos said it was “looking forward to co-operating with the committee”.
Amazon and Boohoo, which also owns PrettyLittleThing, declined to comment.