Attitudes towards environmental and social issues have improved drastically in recent years, however, we remain living in an era of fast fashion where an artisan coffee can cost more than a t-shirt. Efforts to reduce pollution and improve working conditions in the fashion industry largely rely on voluntary commitments and some rightly feel that the fashion industry has been ‘marking its own homework’ for too long.  

We look at the role legislation is playing in improving the sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry:

Waste Prevention Programme:

a key component of building a more sustainable industry is encouraging brands to design products that last longer. On 21 March 2021, the government announced plans for a wide-ranging Waste Prevention Programme, which includes steps to use resources more efficiently, design and manufacture products for optimum life and the requirement to repair and reuse more items. A circular industry will ultimately enable clothing and fabrics to be re-circulated into market, which in turn will prevent items ending up in incinerators and landfills.

Competition & Markets Authority Guidance on Environmental Claims:

more than half of UK consumers take environmental considerations into account in their life choices and are increasingly seeking to shop sustainably; as a result, we have seen a rise in unfounded environmental credentials of products and services. To clamp down on so-called ‘greenwashing’, on 21 May 2021 the Competition & Markets Authority published draft guidance for businesses on environmental claims, with finalised guidance due by the end of the summer. The hope is that the draft guidance will offer brands more certainty in terms of the claims they are permitted to make, as well as giving regulators more bite to take on non-compliant adverts. 

Environment Bill:

the Environment Bill is working its way through parliament and will, for the first time, enshrine environmental principles in law. The bill is set to deliver the bold vision set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and will introduce an independent watchdog (the Office for Environmental Protection) to hold the government to account. Despite the Bill being criticised for not focussing particularly on fashion, the Bill includes provisions to improve resource efficiency and reduce pollution and waste, which should in turn incentivise recycling and innovation in new designs.

Revised Modern Slavery Act:

the industry continues to face regular criticism for poor working conditions and unfair wages, with Boohoo’s recent violation of minimum wage requirements still raw. To put an end to the inadequate treatment of workers along the supply chain, the government have announced a commitment to introduce new measures through the revised Modern Slavery Act 2015. Such new measures will ensure sufficient due diligence checks are carried out across the supply chains, as well as regular reporting on such steps taken to prevent modern slavery.

Bringing about change in the fashion industry will be complex given its global nature and its many different parts, however, those that chose ‘business- as-usual’ may not only be risking their reputations but may be subject to the looming repercussions of non-compliance.