A representative survey commissioned by AK Vienna and Greenpeace shows: Consumers in Austria are aware of the downsides of fashion consumption in principle. However, their purchasing behaviour lags behind this awareness. Last but not least, production and trade must also rethink. This requires clear rules. AK and Greenpeace advocate, among other, a legal ban on the destruction of new goods and a strong EU supply chain law.
Fast fashion has become an established term. Constantly changing collections are meant to keep the desire to consume alive. According to a survey, consumers in Austria spend an average of almost 800 euros a year on clothing. However, about half of the 100 or so items of clothing that people in Austria own are only worn occasionally or not at all (12%). And this despite of the fact that more than four-fifths of the respondents agree with the statement that the environment is massively polluted by clothing overproduction and that Fast Fashion is a great evil. An astonishing 92% of respondents even said that people generally buy too much clothing.
So far, consumer behaviour has only had a limited influence on this awareness. Thus, 43% of those surveyed would in principle be prepared to buy more durable products, even if they are more expensive. However, only 30% actually put this into practice. Compared to a survey from 2019, the useful life of textiles has even decreased somewhat; only around a third of respondents bought second-hand clothing last year. When buying clothes, consumers mainly pay attention to functionality (92%) as well as high quality and workmanship (85%). However, the most favourable price (78%) is also decisive for the purchase, while high environmental (44%) and social standards (40%) are far less important. With regard to the question of which political measures are considered necessary, the mandatory implementation of a supply chain law that focuses on respect for human rights receives the highest level of approval in the survey at 91%.
Background of the survey
The global textile industry has massive negative impacts, especially in respect of production. Up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to it. Not only its water consumption is enormous. According to the European Environment Agency, it is also one of the main causes of water pollution. The areas used for the cultivation of cotton, other natural fibres and for keeping livestock consume 5% of the cultivated land area globally. The intensive use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers is driving species extinction and the acidification of inland waters and oceans, among other. The number of animals killed in fur farms alone is estimated at around 100 million.
But not only the ecological effects are devastating. In a report by the European Parliament, working conditions in the Asian textile industry have been compared to slavery. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, workers on average only earn about 0.6% of the price of a T-shirt. Even in Eastern European countries, the legal minimum wage in the industry is only 20 to 30% of a living wage, and often not even this is paid. There are also complaints about dangerous workplaces, lack of job security, discrimination, child labour and poor trade union organisation. According to Common Objective, there are about 27 million people with work-related health problems in the textile industry worldwide.
Political initiatives and demands of AK
In March 2022, the European Commission published a textile strategy as part of the circular economy strategy of the European Green Deal. The aim is to ensure by 2030 that textiles are durable, repairable, recyclable and free of hazardous substances, and that they are also largely produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. High-quality clothing should be available at affordable prices, and surplus clothing should not be disposed of. To this end, the design requirements for textiles are to be tightened, product labelling improved, greenwashing combated and the problem of exporting textile waste tackled. A central project on the way there is the planned Ecodesign Regulation. It is intended to define criteria for sustainable design for individual product groups. However, its implementation will take some time. Equally central is the EU Supply Chain Act, which is currently being negotiated and will oblige companies to fulfil certain sustainability criteria along the entire supply chain
In Austria, a ban on the destruction of unsold textiles in mint condition is currently being discussed; a corresponding bill has been in the process of being drafted since the end of 2022. This long-standing demand by Greenpeace was also adopted by the Austrian Climate Council. AK also demands, among other things, more subsidies for repair services as well as lending and sharing systems, clear criteria for quality labels and a ban on the export of textile waste to third countries.
AK EUROPA Study: (Sustainable) fashion consumption in Austria: a high level of awareness, but potential to do more
AK Wien: Survey on fashion consumption: High price for environment, climate and people
AK EUROPA: EU Supply Chain Law: Council agrees on general approach
AK EUROPA Campaign: Justice is Everybody’s Business!