Westminster Business Forum

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Next steps for the UK fashion industry - sustainability, ethics and growth

March 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on the future of the fashion industry in the UK.

The agenda looks at next steps for:

  • environmental sustainability
  • ethical employment and supply chain practices
  • industry growth and international competitiveness post-Brexit and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from BEIS; Defra; DIT; the FCDO; the Home Office; DAERA, NI; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

The agenda

  • Priorities for UK leadership in sustainable fashion - innovation, industry responsibility and policy
  • ‘Sustainable fashion and international opportunities’
  • ‘Follow up to the Fixing Fashion report and insights from the Fostering Sustainable Practices project’
  • Minimising the impact of fashion on the environment - waste reduction, growing the garment circular economy, and innovation in materials
  • Protecting the workforce - working conditions, combating modern slavery and exploitation, and the impact of Brexit
  • Next steps for improving labour practices in garment fashion factories
  • Supply chain transparency and options for regulation
  • The way forward for sustainable and responsible growth in the UK fashion industry

Areas for discussion:

  • sustainability and minimising the impact of fashion on the environment:
    • domestic waste - incentivising and supporting consumers to recycle, and improving engagement with the circular economy, including buying second hand and hiring clothes
    • plastic micro fibres - how best to reduce their release into the environment, which occurs when synthetic garments are washed, for example through capture devices, or the use of more sustainable fabrics
    • innovation - looking at developments in the use of alternative fabrics, and managing the potential impact on cotton producers
  • working conditions:
    • exploitation in garment factories - priorities for policy, enforcement and best practice for prevention, including instances of modern slavery
    • regulation - options for licensing schemes for garment factories
  • director conduct:
    • how to ensure that workers are protected, following recent high profile cases of alleged mismanagement
  • COVID-19 and the fashion industry:
    • impact - the way forward for the sector and its supply chains as retail is hit by closures and changing safety restrictions, and adapts to changing consumer purchasing demands and habits
    • options for government support - discussing how the industry can most effectively engage with policymakers, and assessing the measures called for by the BFC including:
      • interest-free loans
      • renegotiation of retail leases
      • legislation to protect smaller companies from cancelled orders
      • support for international trade
      • funding for more sustainable practices within the industry
    • job losses resulting from the pandemic - how best to support workers who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, with the furlough scheme possibly ending in March, with concerns raised by the Work and Pensions Committee over the pension funds of insolvent companies
  • policy priorities - discussing what the industry needs to help create stimulus that will ensure UK fashion businesses are sustainable and remain competitive internationally, including:
    • discussing trading agreements following the end of the transition period, marketing support and access to finance, and immigration policy that helps attract and retain skills and global talent
    • support for fair practices - in supply chains and relationships
    • local and national government frameworks - for underpinning environmental and financial sustainability, and growth, in the UK-based fashion industry

Background and relevant developments:

  • UK-EU Trade Agreement - broadly welcomed by the British Fashion Council but with remaining concerns over unregistered design rights, visas for workers, creatives and models, and the potential that future trade deals may not include robust intellectual property rights protection
  • high street fashion closures:
    • with major brands being acquired by online-based companies but without staff being taken on or retention of the bricks and mortar outlets themselves
    • further fashion retailers of all scales having ceased trading or in danger of doing so, with the knock-on impact on supply chains and communities, and concerns about pensions
  • The British Fashion Industry Calls on Government for Support - the British Fashion Council seeking funding, including for SMEs, PPE and clean growth R&D, as well as measures on finance, taxation and fair supply chain relationships, as the third England lockdown and restrictions in other parts of the UK continue to put pressure on fashion retailers and their partners
  • EAC revisit fashion sustainability and working conditions in UK garment industry:
    • ongoing concerns, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, about the environmental impact of garment factories and their working conditions have prompted the revisit
    • following the Government’s rejection of recommendations in the Environmental Audit Committee 2018 inquiry, including on producer responsibility, clothing collection and recycling, and exploitation of those working in supply chains
  • Making the UK a global leader in Sustainable Fashion - APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion recommendations on sustainable fabrics, boosting recycling jobs, bringing manufacturing back to the UK and the role that government, businesses and consumers might play
  • Textiles Market Situation - the latest WRAP report on textile consumption, recycling and the market for reuse, and clothing material ending up in residential waste
  • Retailers and MPs Unite to End Labour Exploitation:
    • calling for introduction of statutory licensing of garment factories in the UK - from fashion retailers and MPs, coordinated by the BRC, aimed at:
      • better protecting workers rights
      • fair competition for ethical businesses against those that cut corners
      • encouraging retailers to source products from UK suppliers
    • the Minister for Safeguarding responds - without commitments to licencing reform, citing:
      • increased burden on compliant businesses
      • new powers and resources given to enforcement agencies, and the setting up of a multi-agency taskforce in Leicester to tackle labour exploitation
  • SCAP 2020 Commitment - clothing companies and others committing to measure, reduce and report their global impact on waste, water and carbon
  • London Fashion Week goes gender neutral and fully virtual amid COVID-19 restrictions - showcasing a gender-neutral range after the menswear show was cancelled by the BFC in January

Policy officials attending:

Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; Defra; the Department for International Trade; the FCDO; HM Revenue and Customs; the Home Office; DAERA, NI; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government. Also due to attend are representatives from Addleshaw Goddard; Anti-Slavery International; ASOS; Bridge & Stitch; British Retail Consortium; Caramel Rock; Central Saint Martins; Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE Bristol; Community Resources Network Ireland (CRNI); De Montfort University; DEPLOY LONDON; DLA Piper UK; Ecosurety; Elemntz; Eunomia Research & Consulting; Fashion Roundtable; Fashion Roundtable / Black Neon Digital; Forest Stewardship Council UK; Harbottle & Lewis; Hertfordshire County Council; Innovate UK; Kingston School of Art; London College of Fashion; London College of Fashion, Fashion Business School; Oakdene Hollins; PEFC International; Project 2030; PwC; Queen's University Belfast; Royal College of Art; Shirley/OEKO-TEX; Squire Patton Boggs (UK); Stobbs IP; Sullivan Upper School; Textile Consult; Titanic Denim; TRAID; University of Bristol; University of Glasgow; University of the Arts London; Which?; Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton) and Zero Waste Scotland.

Press passes have been reserved by representatives from The Environment Magazine; The Sunday Times and Trade&Industry.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles