Tomorrow, Tuesday November 27th, an unprecedented investigation by MPs will take place when some of our best-known high street retailers will sit before the Environmental Audit Committee, to answer question on fashion’s environmental and social impacts.

It’s the final oral session of an inquiry launched earlier this year, which saw TRAID’s Campaign Manager Andrea Speranza on a panel with Lucy Siegle, Livia Firth, Jenny Holdforth and Jane Grice at the Victoria and Albert Museum, giving evidence to MPs. Watch the video below

The inquiry also received 57 pieces of written evidence on the sustainability of the fashion industry from a range of organisations, institutions and individuals including TRAID (read our evidence submission here).

There’s undoubtedly growing awareness that fast fashion – cheap disposable clothing with a quick turnover – has multiple negative environmental impacts including high levels of textile waste, water pollution, high carbon emissions and the use of toxic pesticides to grow cotton. To give some sense of the scale of its impact, according to WRAP, the fashion industry has the fourth largest environmental impact after transport, housing and food.

High volumes of toxic pesticides are used to grow cotton causing harm to people and the environment ©Leigh McAlea 2018

There’s also growing awareness that fast fashion routinely exploits its employees, from cotton farmers to garment workers. Extremely low wages, labour rights violations and dangerous working conditions are endemic in the supply chains making our clothes. This is a workforce which is highly globalised, predominately female and often operating in some of the world’s poorest communities from Burma to Bangladesh. In the UK too, reports have revealed that British clothing factories are illegally paying workers below the minimum wage.

Garment workers in Cambodia striking over low pay

The fast fashion business model of take, make dispose, repeat is unsustainable for people and planet, and urgently needs to change. As Andrea Speranza said when giving oral evidence to the committee “it (the industry) makes a mockery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals”.

TRAID welcomes the opportunity for retailers to be questioned about the life cycle of their clothes, wages and how they plan to reduce their environmental and social impacts. This inquiry is important because for the first time, we will see the EAC holding retailers to account for the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion business models.

At the same time, these proceedings will give recommendations to the Government that, if implemented, might give consumers more insight and information about the real impacts of what they buy. For change to happen, the industry’s current unsustainable model needs to be made transparent and discussed. That’s what this inquiry offers.

How will the retailers respond? We will be watching the proceedings with great interest and tweeting using the hashtag #EACfixingfashion. Join us live on twitter from 10am on Tuesday 27th November.