Government's fast fashion response follows dismally familiar path, shows May's climate pledge will be broken

It will take radical action to meet the outgoing Prime Minister's zero carbon footprint by 2050 pledge. The response to the EAC's sensible and measured report shows the government is completely unwilling to do what it takes

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Tuesday 18 June 2019 11:16
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Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, whose fast fashion report was rejected by the government
Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, whose fast fashion report was rejected by the government

We care very deeply about this. But we don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Having read it, that would be my summary of the government’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report into fast fashion and the depredations the industry is inflicting upon the world around us.

The report, following hearings that made me feel uncomfortable in my own clothes watching them, was actually very reasonable.

Among other things, it called for a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that could otherwise be recycled or reused, with the scandal over Burberry burning unsold clothes accessories and perfumes worth £28.6m in 2017 to protect its brand fresh in the mind.

It also recommended mandatory environmental targets, VAT concessions to encourage repair, greater efforts to tackle modern slavery and non payment of the minimum wage in the UK, and a 1p levy on garments to raise £35m that would go towards improved collection and sorting.

The latter was perhaps the most eye catching recommendation, but again, it is a relatively modest proposal when you consider that a staggering 300,000 tonnes of clothing is burned or buried in this country each year.

It even garnered some support from the industry. But the best the government could do in response was to say that it might be considered at some point over the next five years or so, a pledge so vague it is virtually worthless.

The rest of the recommendations were dealt with by similarly vague maybes or simply airily dismissed. There was also much gushing praise for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, and statistics about how much its signatories have improved their carbon and water footprints, bless their hearts.

The problem with that is that there are only 11 of them and the recycling charity that runs it has lost most of its government funding.

The outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May received some rare praise when, in her desperate scramble to counter the plain white front page Private Eye put out to mock her lack of any meaningful legacy, she committed the UK to a zero emission target by 2050.

But it wasn’t all that long before questions were being raised about how it could possibly be achieved.

The complacent and blasé response to the committee’s fine report drew an angry response from its chair Mary Creagh and no wonder. The Eye might just as well go ahead and reprint that issue because as she said, it clearly shows ministers are perfectly prepared to tolerate policies that "trash the environment".

It demonstrates the lack of will there is in government circles when it comes to taking the steps necessary to reach that target, and to deal with the other environmental challenges the UK faces. It ranks alongside the similarly dismal response Michael Gove’s environment department has made in response to the mountains of disposal coffee cups going into landfill.

May’s bold pledge is little more than a guy garbed in the garment industry’s ever growing pile of unsold clothes, one that will be in ashes long before the UK gets even close.

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