News

A sustainability tax could be imposed on UK clothing retailers and producers

5 min read

20 February 2019

Reporter, Real Business

The conversation is building around issues of clothing production and consumption sustainability in the UK. As the buzz grows in Westminster, clothing producers and retailers must understand what these sustainability suggestions mean, as they may soon become policies. Prepare now to limit the impact they could have on your overheads.

There’s a big conversation bubbling away in Westminster, and it’s not about Brexit for once. Instead of the usual diplomatic drama series that we’ve come to know, (and hate), this time MPs are debating how they’re going to make UK clothing retailers and producers more eco-friendly.

The answer a number of MPs are proposing is the introduction of a tax on new clothes in the UK.

‘Throwaway fashion’ is being thrown into British landfill sites

We’re all familiar with the term, ‘throwaway fashion’, aren’t we? Well, e-commerce retailers like Boohoo are thriving off it. By offering en-masse cheap clothing almost instantly to customers online, it encourages a culture of buying, and of throwing away with abandon, meaning that more items of clothing are going into landfills up-and-down the country.

The shocking results of this practice have been highlighted by Sky News recently, who reported that every year as much as £140m worth of clothes are sent to landfill in the UK.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is pushing for change

The UK’s poor sustainability record when it comes to clothing disposal is backed up by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), who recently conducted a report covering clothing waste issues here. Their findings suggest that consumption and disposal of new clothing in the UK are far higher than in any other European country.

Tax the clothing and encourage more responsible recycling

This has led to a call from MPs to make clothing producers and retailers more compliant about issues surrounding sustainability by paying one penny’s worth of tax per clothing item. It’s believed that the money raised from this could raise an extra £35m for better collections and recycling. Which means less clothing being dumped in landfill sites.

“A million tonnes of textiles a year are being thrown away and we need to bend the curve of consumption. We are urging consumers to buy less, to repair and reuse more before they recycle as well.” – MP Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the Environmental Audit Committee, (EAC).

What are the committee’s recommendations for clothing producers and retailers?

The EAC wants to lobby the government to include the below compliance policies for UK clothing producers and retailers in order to stem their carbon footprint. These include:

  • Compulsory environmental targets for retailers
  • These will apply to retailers turning over more than £36m a year
  • A penny charge for every item of clothing
  • This tax will go towards better clothing collection and recycling
  • Incentivising companies who design clothes with lower environmental impacts
  • Penalising retailers that don’t
  • Lobbying the global fashion industry to reduce net carbon emissions to zero 

It’s not just sustainability quotas that UK clothing businesses should be worried about, minimum pay is also an issue

The EAC’s Mary Creagh also points to other necessary compliances UK based clothing producers need to make, and it’s something that may surprise people, it’s setting minimum wage requirements. Creagh says that labour exploitation is a serious issue in the UK clothing production sector.

“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.” – MP Mary Creagh

Will these sustainability suggestions ever become policy? Watch this space…

Whilst these sustainability points are as of yet only a proposition, considering the pressure all sectors of business are facing to become more sustainable, they could well become reality.

– Instead of waiting to find out, now’s the time for clothing producers and retailers operating in the UK to get their houses in order, before it happens.