October 30, 2018 / 9:05 PM / 16 days ago

Fast fashion hurts workers and the environment, British lawmakers told

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain should pressurize fashion brands to design clothes that pollute less and are easier to recycle to reduce fast fashion’s environmental impact, experts told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Demand for cheap garments is also leading to poor working conditions and exploitation in global supply chains, the Environmental Audit Committee was told at the first hearing of its inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry.

“Consumers in the UK are getting pleasure and enjoyment from fashion and that is coming at a cost to workers and the environment,” said Mark Sumner, a lecturer in fashion and sustainability at the University of Leeds.

Businesses face growing pressure to ensure their supply chains are environmentally-friendly and pay their workers fair wages, as campaigners estimate some 25 million people globally were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016.

Global clothing sales have boomed in the last two decades, driven by fast-changing fashion trends, but this has resulted in people wearing each item far fewer times before throwing it away, a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found.

Textile production emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, it said, with less than 1 percent of unwanted clothes being recycled.

Alan Wheeler, head of Britain’s Textile Recycling Association, a trade group, said incentives like taxes should be used to push companies to design clothing that is easier to recycle and disassemble.

“I would like to see producers, retailers, being made in some way to take more responsibility for the clothing that they are putting on the market,” he told lawmakers in London.

Companies should also try to cut the amount of plastic fibers that clothes shed during washing, said Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at the University of Plymouth.

Clothes release half a million tonnes of plastic microfibers into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“We are finding synthetic materials - plastics but particularly fibers - in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, in fishing shellfish,” said Thompson.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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