A new global survey reveals the majority of people want more transparency from fashion brands and expect them to take responsibility for pollution in their supply chains. Over 70% of people in the UK, the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain said they think clothing brands should ensure garments are manufactured in an environmentally friendly way and provide information to customers on their green commitments.

The poll, carried out by IPSOS Mori, is one of the most far-reaching surveys of public perception around the world of environmental and labour issues within the fashion industry and will be worrying reading for some of the biggest fashion brands, already reeling from falling profits and scandals over the burning of unsold stock.

Urska Trunk from the Changing Markets Foundation, said:

[The survey] shows that people expect brands to take responsibility for what happens in their supply chains, both in terms of their workers and the environment. All the indications are consumer mindsets are changing: they want more accountability, and more information and they are increasingly putting their money where their mouth is.”

The so-called ‘fast fashion’ era is characterised by a doubling in clothing production since 2000, with many items disposed of just a few months after purchase. In the UK, 350,000 tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill each year. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from textiles production totalled 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

When brands – both low-cost and luxury – do communicate to consumers about their supply chain, the poll indicates there is widespread scepticism about the credibility of the information. In France, only 14% of people have confidence in the information provided by brands themselves on sustainability, and just 25% of Americans said they would trust the sustainability information provided by clothing brands themselves. Only three in 10 respondents think that industry self-regulation of the sector is effective.

There are over 100 certification labels and standards in the fashion industry, but environmental campaigners warn that not all are reliable assurances of sustainability.

Changing Markets saygovernments must step up to the plate and regulate textile supply chains”.

The survey results come as a new report from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis states that both the human and environmental health risks linked to fast fashion are “hidden throughout the lifecycle of each garment”. The report authors slam the textile and garment industries for shifting the “environmental and occupational burden” associated with mass production and disposal of clothing from wealthy countries to developing ones, arguing that fast fashion should be considered as an issue of global environmental injustice.

Up and down the textile supply chain depletion of water sources and forests are rife. As are water, soil, and air pollution.

One example of the industry’s high environmental cost is the processes used to produce viscose – a plant-based fibre used as a popular alternative to cotton or synthetic products. In 2017, research revealed severe environmental damage including water pollution from untreated contaminated waste at 10 viscose manufacturing sites in China, India, and Indonesia. Over 300,000 EU consumers recently signed a petition calling on brands to commit to sourcing viscose, exclusively from factories that don’t dump toxic water into rivers and streams. The IPSOS-MORI survey also reveals two-thirds of the UK public (66%) think clothing brands should provide information about their viscose suppliers.