business corporate responsibility fair trade shopping sustainability

Good news on ethical fashion: the sustainable clothing action plan

London Fashion Week passed me by a few weeks back, but if I had been paying a bit more attention I’d have heard about the government’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan a little sooner.

As we’ve mentioned before, fashion is a deeply wasteful and polluting industry. Fashion addicts are just as bad as their favourite brands, throwing away millions of items of clothing a year, sometimes unworn. There are also big social justice issues around fashion, from pesticide use to sweatshop labour.

So I was glad to see DEFRA have launched an ambitious plan to sort fashion out. Along with hundreds of companies and organisations, the action plan aims to put an end to ‘throw-away fashion’ through four key measures:

  1. Improving environmental performance across the supply chain, including: sustainable design; fibres and fabrics; maximising reuse, recycling and end of life management; and clothes cleaning.
  2. Awareness, media, education and networks for the sustainability of clothes.
  3. Promoting markets for sustainable clothing.
  4. Improving traceability along the supply chain (environmental, ethical, and trade).

Among more specific steps, M+S, Sainsburys and Tesco have promised to increase their ranges of Fairtrade and organic clothing, and take back unwanted clothes for recycling or re-use. Tesco have promised to stop buying cotton from countries known to use child labour.

The Association of Charity Shops will promote second hand clothing as an environmentally friendly alternative. Members, such as Oxfam, will open more ’boutique’ style stores selling higher quality and more fashionable items.

The Fairtrade Foundation has set an ambitious target to raise production to 10% of cotton clothing sold in the UK by 2012.

All this is very good news, and the scope is impressive. The roadmap goes right from the growing of the raw materials right through to disposal, and even looks at how clothes are washed. It’s just the kind of big picture perspective thatthe government should be facilitating to get business and consumers together for sustainability. My congratulations to DEFRA, and we will watch this space and make sure the companies keep their promises.


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