Major clothing retailers are facing pressure over “fast fashion” amid concerns over the impact it has on the environment.
The high street knock-offs of catwalk couture are often only intended to last for a few months – and the increase in purchases has led to hundreds of tonnes of clothing being dumped every year.
MPs are also concerned about poor working conditions in garment factories, with Westminster’s environmental audit committee asking bosses at 10 leading British brands to reveal their environmental record.
Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Tesco, Asda and Sports Direct are among the retailers coming under scrutiny – and some executives will be invited to give evidence to MPs later this year.
The committee’s chairman, Mary Creagh, said: “The way we design, produce and discard our clothes has a huge impact on our planet.
“Fashion and footwear retailers have a responsibility to minimise their environmental footprint and make sure the workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage.
“We want to hear what they are doing to make their industry more sustainable.”
The committee has already heard from the British Retail Consortium, which claimed up to 90% of garment workers are paid below the minimum wage, do not have employment contracts, and face intense and arbitrary work practices.
The UK fashion industry is worth £28bn a year, with Britons buying twice as much clothing as a decade ago – more than consumers in other European countries.
A single load of washing can release 700,000 fibres into waste water and contribute to ocean pollution, according to research from the University of Plymouth.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has estimated that the global fashion industry produced more CO2 emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined in 2015.
Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner Emma Priestland said: “Clothing firms must come clean about their impact on the environment.
“Clothes washing generates thousands of tonnes of plastic microfibre pollution every year – much of which ends up in our rivers and estuaries, where it can enter the food chain.
“The fashion industry must do far more to reduce the significant damage it does to our planet and if it doesn’t, the government must make them.”