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"Scope for retailers to do much more": EAC praises and shames UK retailers for sustainability efforts

Posted on 11 February 2019

"Scope for retailers to do much more": EAC praises and shames UK retailers for sustainability efforts

The Environmental Audit Committee published its interim report last week, following the conclusion of its investigation into the sustainability practices of the UK’s retail industry. Whilst the report identifies three areas on which brands and retailers can focus to improve their sustainability record, given that it is an interim report it lacks detailed recommendations and mainly serves as a summary of the key findings from the investigation. The report also ranks various UK retailers according to their sustainability efforts.

The three areas identified for improving sustainability practices are:

  • "sustainability actions" such as the use of organic or sustainable cotton, the use of recycled materials and in-store take-back schemes;
  • "sustainability initiatives" such as being a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and reusing or recycling unsold stock; and
  • "labour market initiatives" such as being a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative.

The three evidentiary hearings alluded to all of these suggested practices, so they should come as no surprise to those monitoring the Committee's investigation.

The report categorises certain UK retailers and brands into three groups ("Engaged", "Moderately Engaged" and "Less Engaged") and gives particular praise to ASOS, Burberry, Marks & Spencer, Primark and Tesco, which, the Committee concludes, are participating in most of the leading industry initiatives and working towards "ambitious sustainability targets, by industry standards". ASOS, Burberry and Primark, in particular, provided comprehensive responses to the Committee and Tesco was recognised for its ambitious targets to demonstrate "that it is possible to integrate high volumes of sustainable and recycled fabrics into supply chains". Conversely, Amazon UK, Boohoo and others were criticised by the Committee for their lack of sustainability efforts.

The interim report does introduce a new point, which will have implications for international corporations, requiring UK-based subsidiaries of foreign businesses to be responsible for their sustainability practices, and therefore not be immune to scrutiny by the UK government. The interim report also continues to highlight the concern around labour practices in Leicester.

The final report is due to be published in the coming weeks, and will hopefully provide tangible, detailed and practical recommendations for the UK's retail and fashion industries to implement, consequentially improving their environmental sustainability practices. In our previous reports, we identified the key points and issues from the investigations which we would expect the Committee to address in its final report.

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