Too often bargain clothes shopping means the exploitation of workers

PUBLISHED: 16:34 19 November 2020

Catherine West is concerned about the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

Catherine West is concerned about the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0)

The clothes we wear shouldn’t cost the earth, but last year’s Fixing Fashion report found that textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined.

Staggeringly, the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gas per year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the UK combined.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for ethics and sustainability in fashion, I know that the environmental price tag on our clothes is unsustainable.

I want to see the UK become a global leader in sustainability and am championing recommendations that include government investment in textile recycling facilities and research and development to create more sustainable fabrics with a lower environmental impact.

Fashion’s impact isn’t only on our planet. The industry has an enormous social cost.

When the charity Labour Behind the Label highlighted the exploitative working practices in Leicester this summer, many were shocked.

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The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh killed 1,134 factory workers producing clothes for many of our high street brands. Dangerous conditions and below minimum wage have become a common theme in the drive for fast fashion. We have to recognise that a bargain in our shopping basket has all too often been at the expense of an exploited worker in the supply chain.

During the pandemic, the non-payment of suppliers by far too many large brands has led to many Bangladeshi garment workers falling into poverty.

Our APPG has heard accounts of young female factory workers being forced into marriage or tragically committing suicide. Brands, consumers and politicians need to work together to create a new business model where the fashion industry not only pays its workers fairly, but also commits to tackling social justice issues alongside the climate crisis.

Our APPG is speaking to fashion brands, trade bodies, NGOs, academic experts, survivors and government ministers and we’re supporting an upcoming report which will address modern slavery in fashion supply chains and provide the government with concrete recommendations. Existing laws and regulations must be properly enforced, all workers must receive the minimum wage or greater (as happens already at the fantastic local factory Fashion Enter in Haringey), UK laws must be enhanced post-Brexit and on-shoring of manufacturing to the UK encouraged where we

can ensure transparency and ethics.

Exploitation should never be the price of the clothes we wear.

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