British MPs Call on Fast Fashion to Address Environmental Harms

Some of the most popular high-street retailers in the United Kingdom are being called out by MPs for their adverse effects on the environment.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee wrote a letter to 10 of the biggest high-street brands — including Primark, Next and JD Sports Fashion — this week asking them to reveal their environmental records. The Committee hopes to learn how the brands can reduce their negative environmental impact while continuing to bring economic benefits to the U.K.

As evidence of the “throwaway culture” created by fast fashion, the Committee pointed out that shoppers are purchasing twice as many clothing items than they did a decade ago. British consumers have the highest consumption of clothing per head of any nation in Europe, and around 235 million clothing items were sent to landfills last year.

British lawmakers have also expressed concerns about poor working conditions associated with high-street retail. In addition to questions about environmental effects, retailers are also being asked whether factory workers are paid a living wage and how they ensure that child laborers are not employed.

These negative impacts are partially offset by the economic benefits of fast fashion, the letter stated, which brings in 28 billion pounds (roughly $36.7 billion at today’s conversion rate) to the British economy. Retailers, according to British Retail Consortium head of sustainability Peter Andrews, are already taking steps toward reducing their environmental impacts, and they encourage customers to bring in unwanted items for reuse rather than trashing them.

“We know more needs to be done, but the best answers will be achieved with collaborative global actions,” Andrews told BBC News.

Retailers must respond to the letter by Oct. 12, and hearings are slated for November.

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