Fashion brands fail to tackle waste and unfair pay, says industry report

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The fashion industry is producing twice as many emissions as permitted if it is to meet UN climate targets in less than eight years, and must urgently reform its recycling and waste practices as well as pay systems, a report from a non-profit industry group has found.

The sector is falling well short of the UN sustainability goals for 2030 that more than 150 brands have signed up to, concludes the Global Fashion Agenda, a wide coalition that includes the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and trade body Textile Exchange.

While there was progress in resource stewardship, work environments and material choices, the industry was behind on wage systems and so-called circularity, based on anonymised data collected by the Higg industry reporting tool.

Only 10 per cent of brands disclosed the number of workers in their supply chain that were covered by collective bargaining agreements, while only 9 per cent reported how many of their suppliers had elected trade unions.

Just 14 per cent said their company’s products were made with materials that could be recycled where they were sold.

While longevity, reuse and recycling of clothing were crucial to reducing emissions and plastic pollution, the GFA noted that less than 1 per cent of textile waste was being recycled into fibres for new clothes.

Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2015 but the use of an item of clothing decreased by 36 per cent, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

About 200 brands used the Higg system to measure their performance in 2020, while 500 more have committed to implementing it by 2024.

Swedish fashion giant H&M disclosed its Higg scores for the first time this week, pledging to increase its total scores by 2 per cent next year.

On its present trajectory, by 2030 the industry will have produced about twice the volume of emissions permitted to align with the Paris climate agreement, according to a recent McKinsey report. To reach its targets, it would have to reduce its emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

Globally, the industry was responsible for about 4 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, McKinsey calculated. At least two-thirds of a brand’s environmental footprint was attributed to its choice of materials.

Fossil fuel-based synthetic materials and recycled synthetics make up more than half of total fibre production, according to the European Commission, and up to 500,000 tonnes of synthetic fibres from textiles were released into oceans every year.

At the UN COP26 in Glasgow last year, about 150 brands, including luxury groups Kering and LVMH, updated the targets laid out in the 2018 Fashion Industry Charter for Climate, pledging to halve emissions by 2030 to limit global warming. However, the signatories represent just a fraction of the huge apparel and footwear industry.

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