Boohoo and H&M Engage in Dialogue with UK Legislators on Sustainable Fashion

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
May 9th, 2024
3:09 PM

Boohoo Group and H&M Group were the sole clothing retailers to attend a significant House of Commons session on UK fashion industry sustainability, with Conservative MP Philip Dunne commending their participation.


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Boohoo Group and H&M Group surprised many by being the sole clothing retailers to attend a crucial House of Commons evidence session on the sustainability of the UK fashion industry. Conservative Member of Parliament Philip Dunne, leading the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, commended their participation, contrasting it with the absence of 15 other companies, including Asos, Shein, John Lewis, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and Next. Dunne criticized these absentees for failing to fulfill their corporate responsibilities by declining to attend.

Several of the EAC's 2019 recommendations have evolved into fundamental aspects of the EU's efforts to regulate sustainable and circular fashion. However, the UK government declined to implement these recommendations. Select committees like the EAC lack the authority to enact policies directly; they can only advocate for government action.


Fast Fashion Under Scrutiny

During the meeting, committee members directed questions towards H&M and Boohoo regarding their business practices. Marcus Hartmann, head of public affairs at H&M, and Andrew Reaney, outgoing responsible sourcing, group product operations, and wholesale director at Boohoo, participated in a panel discussion alongside Thrift+ founder and CEO Joe Metcalfe, and Oxfam trading director Lorna Fallon.

While H&M does not have any UK suppliers, Boohoo has over 40 and has faced scrutiny in recent years for alleged worker exploitation in Leicester. Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, focused her questions on Boohoo's practices. She highlighted the issues in Boohoo's supply chain as part of a global problem characterized by unsafe conditions, low wages, and abuse among garment workers. Webbe advocated for the establishment of a statutory garment regulator and government-mandated measures to ensure ethical production and imports.

Due to time constraints and limited expertise among investigators, the meeting only scratched the surface of fashion's sustainability challenges. Brand representatives cited their use of Better Cotton and recycled polyester as evidence of their shift towards more sustainable materials, but crucial follow-up questions regarding the limitations of Better Cotton or the environmental impact of recycled polyester were not addressed.


Brands' Absence Raises Concerns: Lack of Participation in Sustainable Fashion Inquiry

Brands and retailers were invited to provide insights and report on their progress, as well as respond to questions from committee members. Some of these questions appeared to reveal a lack of understanding about the complexities of sustainable fashion or an inability to delve deeper into issues surrounding fast fashion.

Brands were requested to submit evidence regarding the scope of their social and environmental impacts, their advancements in these areas over the past five years, the role of government policies and initiatives in supporting their efforts, and their future plans for improvement. Fifteen of the invited brands opted not to attend.Among the absentees were Matalan, TK Maxx, Asos, I Saw It First, Shein, Asda, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, New Look, Next, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco, as well as secondhand platforms eBay, Vinted, and Depop. (Asos, Asda, and Depop submitted written evidence the day after the meeting.) H&M and Boohoo were the sole brands that chose to participate in person.


Prioritizing Waste Management: Exploring Solutions and Addressing Challenges

Waste management took center stage in discussions across both panels, as participants proposed a variety of solutions. Suggestions ranged from implementing a levy on new products for extended producer responsibility and incorporating ecodesign principles to enhance recyclability, to increasing investments in recycling infrastructure—a topic that has gained significant attention in recent months.


Reflections on the House of Commons Evidence Session

In conclusion, the House of Commons evidence session on the sustainability of the UK fashion industry shed light on both progress and challenges within the sector. Boohoo Group and H&M Group's participation was notable, especially in contrast to the absence of several other major clothing retailers. Conservative Member of Parliament Philip Dunne praised their involvement but criticized the absentees for failing to fulfill their corporate responsibilities.

The meeting addressed key issues such as waste management and modern slavery in fashion supply chains, with committee members directing questions towards H&M and Boohoo representatives. While discussions touched on various solutions and initiatives, including extended producer responsibility and the use of sustainable materials, time constraints limited the depth of exploration.

Overall, the session underscored the importance of continued scrutiny and action to address sustainability challenges in the fashion industry. Moving forward, collaboration between stakeholders, including government, brands, and civil society, will be crucial to drive meaningful progress towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion ecosystem.