Q&A With John McNally MP on the Environmental Audit Committee's Sustainability of the Fashion Industry Inquiry
John McNally is the Scottish National Party MP for the Falkirk Constituency and acts as the Shadow SNP Spokesperson for the Environment. John has been a member of the Environmental Audit Committee since 2015, is the Chair of the APPG for the Hair Industry and a Vice-Chair of the APPG for Textiles and Fashion.
Q: What were the findings that most surprised you during the inquiry?
A: The one stand out issue for me was the slave labour issues happening at factories in Leicester, operating like a ‘COUNTRY WITHIN A COUNTRY’.
Q: In your opinion, what would a sustainable fashion industry look like?
A modern day sustainable industry with such a high profile should know where all of the supply chain links are within the industry and face up to and expose any business across the globe of unethical mal practices.
Q: Do you think that fast-fashion is synonymous to unsustainable fashion?
A: The evidence at the EAC enquiry proved beyond doubt that there is a clear link between fast fashion and unsustainable bad corporate responsibility in the way some businesses operate.
Q: What are the three points of the report that you would like DEFRA to pick up on?
A no-tolerance approach towards businesses working with factories that page unfair wages and have unsafe working environment,
Encourage transparency from brands and factories to remove anonymity, and encourage a system that tracks how, where and from what the clothes are made of,
Not to penalise brands and factories already working on sustainable and transparent agendas.
Q: You mentioned a very interesting quote suggesting if the UK is unable to deal with unsustainable practices and modern day slavery nationally, it cannot be expected address them globally. What do you think will be the most effective policy measure to combat the exploitative working practices in the UK?
A: Without doubt the enforcement agencies need to be properly funded, there are far too few officers checking up on these unethical businesses, to hear evidence from government officials that some businesses will maybe have their employment records looked at once in every 300/400, years sends out the wrong message, and simply encourages these unethical household name businesses to think they can get away with this. So more officers and some public humiliation exposure in the media would help. The quote was, “If you want to change the world, get busy in your own little corner” that is exactly what the fashion industry needs to do.
Q: With that said, what steps to you think the UK government can take to discourage companies operating in the UK from engaging with factories that violate human rights?
A: A well-resourced government fashion business agency, either online or a business hub dedicated to the whole sustainable business should be set up immediately identifying ethical business and simultaneously exposing any unethical sourcing practices for easier and simplifying better decision making for all business, established and new.
Q: Do you think it would be stronger to use policing systems to target serious offenders in fast fashion and fine them, rather than adding 1p to each garment as a tax, even to small and sustainable brands who pay the living wage and use safe factories?
A: The EAC recommendation of 1p to each garment is a great start, no doubt, and it seems to me that the smaller business would welcome that if they can be reassured that the money that it will generate goes to better enforcement methods or even helping to establish the fashion business own monitoring officers, so yes if the levy does receive approval it will send a clear message out these business will be caught out.
Q: In your opinion, how responsible is the consumer for the impacts of fast-fashion and what is their role in shifting the industry towards more sustainable practices?
A: The consumer is let down, many consumers are trying to change their habits across a whole range of everyday purchases, but the picture is very confusing on what we are buying, how to reuse, discard or recycle, I do wonder if it is planned confusion.
The fashion industry could help in many ways, one idea suggested at the APPG fashion roundtable is to harmonise a traffic light colour coded labelling system to reflect the garments sustainability and match it up to similarly colour coded bins, a new harmonised infrastructure would be welcome across the UK/ Europe /Globe.
Q: Scotland appears to be leading in the UK in terms of sustainability – what lessons can we learn from their initiatives?
A: Scotland is doing well, though we are certainly not unique in the pursuit of a sustainable country. The most important priority is to have a certainty of policy for the long term, that all parties agree on, in Scotland, there is a recognition of the environment being extremely important to all, that we are very fortunate in our natural resources, and we need to look after our environment and a sustainable healthy way of living. It is worth noting that a new ethical stock exchange (BOURSE) is officially opening in March, I do hope that this encourages companies and business to consider this as alternative way of investing. So hopefully that long-term sustainable ambition will be followed by long-term certainty of investment. However we all can do better.