Waste pickers sift through trash at a landfill site in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. (Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg)

U.K. Lawmakers Ask Fast Fashion to Explain Climate Impacts

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. lawmakers have written to the heads of online retailers including Amazon.com Inc. and Asos Plc to seek evidence about the environmental and social impacts of selling cheap clothes.

The letter to the head of Amazon in the U.K. was prompted by evidence given to a panel of British politicians that heard the demand for affordable garments online is so high that companies are at risk of paying well below the minimum wage and not devoting enough attention to the damage easily disposable clothes have on the environment.

The global fashion industry worth around $3 trillion makes 100 billion accessories and garments a year -- about 60 percent of which are thrown away within a year, according to McKinsey & Co. A small fraction of that is recycled.

What lawmakers want to know
  • How the companies ensure that all the garment workers producing the clothes you sell are paid at least the minimum wage?
  • What is the average life-cycle of the garments you sell?
  • What recycled materials, if any, are used in your products?
  • How companies measure progress towards reducing the environmental impact of the products you sell?

“Our recent evidence hearing raised alarm bells about the fast growing online-only retail sector,” said Mary Creagh, a Labour lawmaker and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. “Low quality 5-pound dresses aimed at young people are said to be made by workers on illegally low wages and are discarded almost instantly, causing mountains of non-recycled waste to pile up.”

The panel drawing members of Parliament from all the main parties announced the inquiry into the sustainability of the U.K.’s fashion industry over the summer and has written to the CEOs of the country’s 10 biggest clothing retailers to ask what steps they’re taking to reduce their environmental impact. The online retailers have until Nov. 15 to respond.

Boohoo Group Plc and Missguided Ltd. have also been asked for input into the inquiry. Amazon U.K. spokesman Tom Parker declined to comment, and an Asos official said the company would co-operate with the committee.

“We are dealing with inquiry in line with the time frames set out by the audit committee,” said Katie Curran, spokeswoman for Boohoo.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.