The garment industry could learn a thing or two from Europe’s horse-meat scandal, said Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, at a recent British parliamentary debate. Addressing the House of Lords in March, Young warned about the “unforeseen complications” of globalized processing and trading. “The longer and more dispersed the supply chain, the more difficult it is to ensure transparency and accountability,” she said. She provided the real-world example of cotton from Uzbekistan, where the government forcibly sends upwards of 2 million children—some as young as 7—to work in the fields for 10 hours a day, for two to three months each year, according to the Responsible Sourcing Network.

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“There are many people who would not wish to wear garments made from cotton harvested by children forced to work in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan instead of attending school,” she said. “But it is impossible to know the source of your shirt, skirt, or trousers. Yet some of our largest fashion retailers will not undertake to demand that the companies in their supply chain stop using cotton gathered by state-sponsored forced labor.”

Businesses and consumers can be “powerful agents of change,” Young said, but there is also a need for government leadership.

Businesses and consumers can be “powerful agents of change,” Young said, but there is also a need for government direction. “This leadership role should also be concerned with working in partnership to educate consumers and skill up young people on manufacturing and other skills, as well as investing in sustainable fashion [small and medium enterprises], and other projects focused on a sustainable future still infused with excitement, individuality, and style,” she added.

Young named the “Sustainable Clothing Action Plan,” headed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as a good example of government rallying the industry to work together to improve the sustainability performance of clothing.

“Consumers need to make the links between their desire for cheap clothing and the loss of livelihoods through depleted, polluted fishing stocks, and ever-diminishing food and water resources,” she said. ‘Add to that the fact that more than 400 people have died in fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan in the past six months, with at least one of the factories involved producing garments for a British retailer, and we have to acknowledge that our current mode of ‘enjoying’ fast, cheap fashion makes no sense whatever.”

[Via Ecotextile News]