Shortfalls in UK Government’s fast fashion strategy revealed

A new report released today by Hubbub reveals that the UK Government has published only 19 policies in five strategies that tackle the issue of fast fashion to date.

The fast fashion industry is the second-largest user and polluter of water globally and one of the largest contributors to modern slavery.

Clothes on hangersDespite this, the UK Government has published only 19 policies between 2007-2021 to tackle the environmental damage and human rights abuses of the industry.

The policies have largely been proposed in a way that is unlikely to lead to implementation, with only 5 per cent, one policy, being proposed with any detail of cost or time frames.

According to the report, only 32 per cent of policies proposed have sought to actively tackle the issue, with the majority of strategies focusing on a single element of the issue, such as waste.

Those that sought to directly tackle fast fashion were primarily aimed at providing voluntary guidance and standards or attempts to enable producers to make a change, but lacked stronger incentives, regulations, or legislation.

The five governmental strategies identified by the report were the 2007 Sustainable Clothing Roadmap, the 2007 Waste Strategy for England, the 2011 Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, the 2013 Waste Prevention Programme, and 2018’s ‘Our Waste, Our Resources’: A Strategy for England.

Despite growing concerns about the environmental and human rights damage caused by the fast fashion industry, there has been a lack of progress made by UK Governments.

According to Oxfam,13 million items of clothing are sent to landfill in the UK every week, which hinders the Government’s waste reduction targets.

Hubbub’s report identifies an absence of cross-departmental effort, noting that all of the policies have been proposed by a government department that is not technically responsible for fashion: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

According to the report, fashion as a policy area falls under the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), with The British Fashion Council listing the DCMS as an industry sponsor.

However, researchers working on the report were told by the DCMS that fast fashion strategies were the responsibility of Defra.

In the aftermath of the Boohoo scandal of 2018, wherein a Financial Times investigation revealed the ‘ultra-fast fashion’ retailer’s labour exploitation, the Government should be more than aware of the wider effect of the industry on workers in the supply chain.

Despite this, the research published today found that the Government rejected all of the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations outlined in its ‘Fixing Fashion: Clothing, Consumption, and Sustainability’ inquiry report, including producer responsibility and due diligence checks.

In 2015, the Government introduced the Modern Slavery Act, yet the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recently (in June 2021) refused to commit to clear timeframes and actions on strengthening the Act.

Defra has announced plans for a new Waste Prevention Programme that will aim to address the negative environmental impacts of the textiles sector and fast fashion industry, including an Extended Producer Responsibility, but this will not be consulted on until 2022.

Trewin Restorick, CEO of Hubbub, said: “The huge environmental and social impact of the fashion industry is becoming ever more apparent. 

If the Government is serious about meeting climate targets and ensuring fairer working conditions, then it has to ensure that the industry operates to the highest environmental and social standards.

This research reveals a shocking absence of leadership resulting in a lack of impactful and systemic change within the fashion sector.”

Researcher Dolly Theis said: "The findings in this research on UK Government fast fashion policy are shocking, particularly when compared to analysis I conducted recently on government obesity policy.

Whilst for obesity, the Government has proposed 689 policies in England to date, for fast fashion it has only proposed a measly 19 policies.

“This stark difference in government policy and attention demonstrates that, despite both fast fashion and obesity being massive and important challenges we face today, the Governments' response is not always proportional or sufficient."

Related Articles