says "Include any recommendations for action by the Government
or others which you would like the committee to consider."
I recommend as many as I possibly can in case they prompt ideas,
even if it makes the file a bit longer. That doesn't mean I trade
at any scale or am expert or good at business.
For the record I trade as Veganline.com selling vegan shoes online that are mainly made in the UK and similar democratic welfare states, and I sell to the vegan market. If something isn't available from a country like the UK, I don't sell it. I follow shoe factories in the UK and have bought from some of them or visited them, and I follow regional government initiatives in London for business advice or help or private sector stuff. I have put a version of this evidence on my Pantstopoverty.org.uk web site, headed pay. I write about government initiatives in a way that looks bitter when I re-read, so I am happy to answer any emails even if they look bitter when I first read them.
1.1 General Question: Incentives to the rise of fast fashion? [paragraph numbers different to those sent to the Environmental Audit Committee]
1.2 Proposal: introduce a social clause tariff
1.3 Proposal: trade envoys should only promote good higher education courses
1.4 Proposal: monetary policy committee should warn of effects on industry of a high exchange rate in monthly reports
1.5 Proposal: add factory-name labels to garments
1.6 Proposal: arbitration theme yet to be invented
2.1 Proposal: add factory-name labels to garments
2.2 Proposal: retailers to reduce free returns
2.3 Proposal: landfill tax rebates that council contractors can organise: public sort or shred
2.4 Proposal: landfill tax rebates that councils organise: vouchers & address lists
2.5 Proposal: machines rumoured to exist ... change in pension law
2.6 Proposal: fund pattern-arranging software
2.7 Proposal: Retail Sector Council members to introduce size hangers
2.8 Proposal: That these machines are invented
2.9 Proposal: Make a trade directory possible by releasing HMRC data
3.1 Proposal: make a trade directory possible by releasing HMRC data
3.2 Proposal: Companies House to prompt for more useful descriptions of business on accounts
3.3 Proposal: planning law to allow relatively quiet industry in residential and office zones
[Paragraph numbers below have changed since drafts sent to the Envrionmental Audit Committee]
3.4 Proposal: Fund a free online costing course for buyers
3.5 General question: What Incentives lead to the rise of fast fashion?
3.6 Proposal: The Department for Business to cease funding for London Fashion Week
3.7 Proposal: Central Government to pause co-operation on the Olympic Park fashion college project until a college is chosen in a fair way.
1.1 General Question:
Tax theme, incentives to fast fashion theme
UK producers pay for a welfare state which is expensive but Bangladeshi producers do not, which is unfair competition for UK producers. Bangladeshi producers tend to have large families instead. As a result, Bangladeshi wages have fallen over the past ten years even though employment has risen, and this is not going to change just because more orders for clothes go to Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi government pays for export subsidies. I guess that this is because they are scared of competition from other cheap-needle countries, and the same reasoning makes it difficult for them to introduce free secondary schools or national insurance and assistance even if they wanted to.
It would be good if there were expert advice from economics teachers about this, in the main-stream and in their textbooks. There is not. Their courses have not caught-up with Forsters' Education Act 1870, The National Insurance Act 1911, and The National Assistance Act 1948. Somebody mentioned bits of the Treaty of Versailles in the oral witness statement (Q115) I didn't do those bits at school and it's a bit late to start but I expect it's a similar point. Economists might quote the theory of Comparative Advantage, written about nineteenth century Britain and Portugal, but they don't elaborate it to talk about a the unfair competition of the sweatshop-state goods sold in the welfare-state country. So we have to have this discussion without enough expert advice unfortunately.
tax theme, incentive to fast fashion theme - tariffs/ sanctions
Bangladesh has a zero tariff, negotiated with the EU by Foreign Office economists in the name of development which didn't happen.
I propose a tariff linked to some index of free secondary education, national insurance, and national assistance in the cheap-needle countries. An index a bit like the Democracy Index or the brand new Human Rights Index. Call it a Social Insurance index. The more social insurance and assistance; the lower the tariff. It would be re-set each year from a new measure of how the country or the trading-bloc does. With luck it would cover all the trading blocs that include cheap-needle countries.
I don't care massively whether this is popular among Bangladeshis, as this is a tariff to help people in the UK. Some Bangladeshis would have to start paying tax to educate their servants and would make a fuss. I do care that it is fair on Bangladeshis, and I think it is. It gives the country a chance to improve without loosing so much of its export business.
I don't care massively that I might no longer get £10 thick jeans in Primark, and have to go back to my old habit of buying jeans second hand. I could learn to like buying clothes second hand again. And the cheapest clothes, we heard from witnesses (Q269) are tempt-you-in offers sold near break-even. Some of the offers would carry-on if tariffs rose or the pound fell.
incentives to fast fashion theme - trade envoys theme - spending priorities for Chevening Scholarships example - potentially something to cut
Extra benefit: if the worst courses close, their staff will no longer promote bad spending schemes like London Fashion Week or the China import promotion scheme in section 3.7 below.
Economics courses are the problem more than clothes. London School of Economics' Economics degree course is one of the most selective in the UK so I suppose it is one of the most applied-for, but it scores as one of the least satisfying on the National Student Survey and the least responsive to student feedback. So students apply in naivety, wanting to change the world, and find that the course is "mathematical argument" and a module on Game Theory but it doesn't let students study how to fund the NHS in thirty years' time or involve critical thinking. Some of these students are referred by overseas trade envoys, or even funded by UK taxpayers on Chevening Scholarships or Marshall Scholarships or something to do with the Great India Fund and Great China Fund. In other words they get student grants, not available to UK taxpayers, to study un-happily on courses about putting UK taxpayers out of work.
I propose that trade envoys find a way to promote courses rather than colleges, helping applicants students find good courses in obscure institutions rather than bad courses in well-known institutions like London School of Economics with its bad course in Economics.
This is good for everyone except tutors at London School of Economics, and possibly London College of Fashion. I also suggest that University courses that cover macro-economics but not the welfare state are flagged-up with a warning on Unistats, so that UK applicants do not apply by mistake, and are not available on scholarships like Chevening so we don't fund other people to study them in the name of promoting British views of the world.
There is another similar sort of grant - the grant that pays school fees as a staff perk of some ex-pat jobs like military jobs posted abroad or the diplomatic corps. I propose that these fees are only paid to schools that teach something about the welfare state and the difficulty of trading between a country that has the system and one that hasn't.
incentives to fast fashion theme, tax theme - informing the public and decision makers so that we can talk about tax cuts to industry if the pound is made artificially expensive by monetary policy
The committee brief the chancellor every month after a minuted meeting. Between 1979 and 2009, the UK had higher interest rates than necessary to borrow public money, so it was a very expensive policy and rather extreme in the 1980s. This is how they explained it to the Treasury Select Committee.
The bottom row of arrows shows that a higher interest rate sucks-in funds from other currencies, making the pound higher, so that it buys more imports. So we pay to put ourselves out of work and make life hard for manufacturers who have to trade internationally. The majority of us who work in services tend not to know about the problem so I think it should be written as a kind of health warning on every monthly monetary policy document, so that every journalist, economics teacher, MP, civil servant, voter and chancellor knows about it.
When the policy first came in, in extreme form, in 1979, a fifth of manufacturing closed in five years leaving a quarter of the work-force on government schemes like the Community Program and Youth Opportunities, sick, or unemployed. Another group did cheaply-taught degree courses like fashion design, of which more later under re-shoring. I'm happy to chase sources for these statements if anyone is interested and emails.
I hope the consequence would be that people would try to think of other ways of warding-off inflation. The chancellor could appoint an "other ways of controlling inflation" committee.
I hope a consequence would be that the public might accept a tax break on manufacturing if interest rates rise, in order to protect it from unfair effects of a high pound. Maybe I should have labelled this proposal as "tax break for industry when the pound is high".
transparency theme, or helping good producers and enforcement.
big buyer small seller theme
In India, factory labels are normal on garments, I'm told. They only make clothes without them for the export market, and it would be very simple for a UK order to be made-up with the usual factory labels attached. I don't know what other countries have the same system.
At the moment, there is law against UK importers buying from overseas prison workshops but no way that they can make it less likely. There is a duty to publish whether they have a modern slavery policy, but no cheap way to show any diligence. And there is a problem in all markets of a small producer dealing with a big buyer, and not being allowed to put their contact details on the label as they might want to do to get business.
big buyer small seller theme
I don't know how an arbitration scheme yet to be invented would work, but notice the need: markets don't work well when a small seller sells to a big buyer. Maybe civil servants reading this have better ideas how to find solutions that have worked. I mean the need to make buyers reasonable when their size in the market allows them to make capricious changes to orders at the last minute, to fine, to pay late, to pay below the minimum reasonable rate, or simply have no idea what's reasonable because nobody tells them, and be paid commission by their employers for some goal that isn't being as unpleasant as possible but may end-up a bit like that. If government can crack that problem, I think there is a chance of boosting factory and farming employment in the UK.
Retail Sector Council theme immediately - labelling law theme in longer term
This might make uniform take-back more likely. It might increase emotional attachment to clothes to encourage re-use
There's less tradition of putting the factory address on a product made in the UK than in India, but I have seen it done on old army surplus trousers and factory brands used to be normal.
There is a benefit to the re-selling industry. It adds emotional attachment to clothing which one of your witnesses states is important to the choice whether to reduce consumption by wearing-out, or re-use by walking to a charity shop, rather than binning. And if you do donate and the clothing is for sale second hand, it adds interest to see a real link to its past on the label.
There is some opportunity for uniform manufacturers to run a take-back scheme as well, for clothes they have made. It could be an optional service added to make their bid attractive when getting a contract. If the factory that makes clothes offers to buy them back at a low price, there's a potential profit I think, because all the specifications and sales points are known to that factory, and it is able to top-up the batch with new stock to make every size available to the public, with all the specifications and sales points. I don't know if any uniform manufacturers would want to offer this service but a label on the uniform is a starting point. At the moment when I see public sector ads for supply, they are more for wholesalers of things like "personal protection equipment" than manufacturers of things like "trousers", so there is no immediate quick change possible.
Retail sector council theme - ebay example -possible future legislation
I hope fewer retailers offer free returns because the system encourages bad customers. The ones who order two sizes rather than measure their own bodies, or who try clothes on at the office party before returning them as unsuitable. Primark manages to re-sell nearly all its returns - only a quarter of a percent of stock goes unsold they say - but M&S admitted a much higher proportion.
Legislation about free returns is easy to enforce. Maybe they could be taxed if retailers continue offering them on good stock
Tax scheme theme - councils theme
I have no evidence about Landfill tax but assume that it's like the tax-break that committee members asked about. It is a tax on bad rather than a tax-break on good. But councils have no time to think nor money, so a tax break on landfill tax that can be used by a council or their contractor might be more practical. A tax rebate for councils that allow recycling machines and sorting to be done in public view might be do-able. I think that is a general awareness issue for consumers and a chance for people to see obscure machines rumoured to exist and think "I could do better", particularly if there is a grant available to develop a better machine.
Demand for second-hand clothes theme - charity shops example
There is more supply of donated clothing than demand to buy it. Councils could enclose a list of second-hand shops in their area as a flyer with other things they send out like parking tickets. They could send any vouchers that second-hand shops are willing to offer.
If no vouchers are involved, a bin contractor might be able to do the same kind of promotion with a list of second-hand shops left in each emptied bin or on the sides of bin lorries
reduce theme - wasted machines
Circular knitting machines, flax weaving machines, robot sewing machines, and the machines at Mungo and Shoddy factories are all at risk of being scrapped if a firm goes bust quickly, and can't be resurrected at a pop-up factory. The committee quoted a factory owner spending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds on the best new machines at Basic Premier while some old ones were being scrapped at Manchester Hosiery.
Often these machines belong to older firms, I guess, that are also pension companies for their employees. Like BHS. If these schemes become owned by the contributors, and become contribution-based schemes rather than anything else, then the boundary between the pension scheme and the bust company should be clearer, allowing the pension to continue, and the members to have a chance of communicating with each other, and to be ready to buy cheap machines from the liquidator. This is a good thing, for example in helping them use any environmentally-important machines that might get scrapped in the rush to liquidate. Two examples might make sense of this. Manchester Hosiery owned tube-knit machines that could make the trunk of a T shirt from yarn without the waste and labour of two seams. The firm went bust and the machine that had been kept for spares was scrapped. If I worked-out how to read reports of bust companies at Companies House I might read what happened to the other machines each time the firm went bust again. Likewise Richards of Aberdeen, who I think had unusual machines that could weave flax stalks. Their employees waited years to get any compensation for a missing pension after the firm went bust and by that time I am sure the machines were long-gone with no chance of a phoenix-like takeover by ex-staff. As for the machine at Smedley that might knit trunk of a jumper and the sleeves in one go, I hope it is still in use after one MP said that a Smedley factory had closed.
reduce theme - off-cuts
It would be good if the Indian government funded some open-source pattern-arranging software.
The committee heard that every garment in Oxford Street is made with off-cuts, but different manufacturers are better or worse at pattern cutting or knitting to the right shape. There is no free open-source pattern cutting software that takes some shapes and tells you how best to arrange them on a table to reduce waste, nor changes to the shapes that would make a difference to waste.
So a designer for an upmarket brand - maybe a graduate with student debt - could not afford that software and the brand would not be very interested in wastage rates. If the brand owner has expensive software, the designer can't afford a copy.
Someone somewhere should sponsor free open-source nesting and pattern-arranging software. Maybe the Indian government could be persuaded to fund this, as so many textile firms are in India. Or a better UK technical college that might spring-up if the worst ones left the market.
Something that UK government can do with no money is to use more open-source software. Leicester Council could do it. It is hard to prove that this is cheaper than licensed, closed-source software although there are no licence fees so I guess it is. Anyway it is more socially inclusive and promotes the idea of someone somewhere just writing software for pattern cutters for free, which might happen.
demand for second-hand clothing theme - charity shops and small ads example
Retail Sector Forum theme. Possible funding of product development theme
A large chain-store or government department should order the best size hangers it can find, so that manufacturers have orders to justify the moulds and experiments to make this work. Once in production, I hope the hangers would be available to charity shop volunteers and ebayers.
A problem about improving machines is that none of us know what existing ones look like. We know what hangers look like, and that there are already expanding hangers, and could be hangers that show the waist size of clothing automatically, while weight and length date first displayed would be easy to add.
Size hangers help people sell second hand clothes online. Take the picture with something like the ebay app, and copy the details off what you see on the picture.
Size hangers help people sell second hand clothes in second hand shops. Pop the clothing on the hanger, put it on the rail next to similar sizes, and take-out the longest-displayed items if the rail is full.
I hope that the next generation of charity shop volunteers will also be ebayers, in which case there is a need for the hanger to help remove the item from ebay if it sells off the rail.
technical innovation theme -theme of machines about to be invented -possible funding of product development theme - making the problems better-known
The committee heard that it would be good if recycling machines were to be invented, which is hard to do without seeing the current machines and the process. I can imagine some headings and say no more.
This point is continued below under re-shoring, but recycling involves machines. To know what recycling machines exist and where is useful - the sort of knowledge that can be added to a directory of UK factories. Wrap try to assemble this kind of information at the moment but a factory directory would help them.
Legislation theme - transparency - / helping good UK producers and enforcement theme
This is the most important suggestion of all. Section 18
HMRC say they have data that would help write trade directories of who makes what in the UK - something that several witnesses noticed the lack of. They also say that they can't release it in any form, even to the Office for National Statistics under the Commissioners for the Revenue and Customs Act 2005 , Section 18 Section 21 lists the exception of "public interest" but I don't know if it would take legislation.
The minister from the Home Office told the committee that there is "no general spreadsheet" of companies to help with enforcement, and the journalist Lucy Siegle said "we don't have the data sets" of where clothes shops buy their clothes. A better list of UK clothes factories would help UK buyers find them as well as government inspectors, so I think the legal ones could do well out of a trade directory. I know that a big problem for the UK shoe industry is for buyers to know it exists and to find the right factory.
The committee asked for evidence about trade envoys, and I mentioned that they should only promote good higher education courses. I guess that they're better at promoting higher education than manufacturing because there are meticulous guides to every higher education course. No guide exists for UK manufacturing -not even Kompass Directory - so there is nothing for envoys to promote or refer-to. They wait for UK companies to apply to be promoted, including UK brands that source overseas, and then they might fund a first trade show or something, helping the brand compete against UK-sourced products. So trade envoys need a directory of UK manufacturers.
Transparency / helping good UK producers and enforcement theme - Companies House example- also good for economic statistics
Companies house have released their data and private companies try to use it to put their own style and extra twists onto it for their own online directories. A prompt to accountants to write whether "manufacturer" means a manufacturer with its own workshop in the UK would help scoop-up better data: we might begin to learn where the clothing and footwear factories are in the UK. If the same Companies House web site had space for HMRC to add data when it is legal for them to do so, that would be good as well.
I imagine that companies would have a chance to log-in and make it invisible, and that there would have to be space for some taxpayers that are not limited companies to be listed too.<
One extra benefit. Anyone who reads Oxford Economics Value of Fashion report to the end will see that they have a go at estimating how much money circulates through the UK footwear manufacturing industry from UK taxpayer subsidy to London Fashion Week. I think it is a negative amount: London Fashion Week kills UK manufacturing. They think it is a positive amount but concede that they're using 1998 data so they really don't have anything to go-on, and better economic statistics would help everyone.
helping good UK producers theme - legislation: planning act
The planning act expected us all to want to live on housing estates and work on trading estates. It assumed that there would always be more industry and that we needed shielding from it. I suggest updating the act to allow the more quiet industry to happen anywhere - certainly in space zoned as office space. I know that some people don't like noise or smell or movement. Going slightly off the point there was someone who lived next to a shoe factory and sued because the smell prevented her writing her next novel. I don't think that's reasonable.
Transparency themes/ Helping good UK producers and enforcement theme - investment in machines theme - Sector Skills Council example
One of your witnesses mentioned buyers who do not know how to cost a garment, so they cannot be blamed for buying one that has to be made under the minimum wage. I propose that there should be an online course with videos of producers saying how difficult it is, and how different machines like robot sewing machines or tube knitting machines can make one factory more productive than another, but that generally you can reach a rule of thumb.
The course should also mention something about being reasonable to maintain to suppliers in business. And the benefits of a welfare state. And it should be certified. And reasonable buyers should have a certificate. I think that's part of the way that government can help industry survive.
3.5 General question:
Spending priorities - something to cut - helping good UK producers and enforcement theme - Central government co-operation with London government theme
London MPs will know that the regional government here has a tradition of funding former Mayor's enthusiasms such as fashion shows and classical dance. There have been a couple of forensic accountants' investigations into it. They found that funding for things like training unemployed people was impossibly complex, and that the staff who managed small arts and employment funding were often temps because long-term staff got sick of interference from Mayoral advisers. That was a report for a new Mayor about a previous one, so less polite than usual. There are also reports from Oxford Economics commissioned by Mayors to say that everything is wonderful, such as the Value of Fashion Report into the unbelievable benefits of the Mayors' London Fashion Week and of shops like BHS.
If I can guess right, London Fashion Week was set-up by London's regional government in 1983 to promote arts courses. So many people were on the dole that we took every available higher education course - often cheap-to-teach arts courses run by former technical colleges. I'm told by a tutor from Cordwainers Footwear College that students for courses called "fashion" or "design" were the only students they could get before the college had to merge into London College of Fashion. So London Fashion Week has never been an event to promote factories; always an event to promote sample collections made for catwalk shows.
The Department for Business paid for an overseas buyers' program to fly buyers in to London Fashion Week and put them up in hotels, and there is an Export Credit Guarantee Scheme with a very high proportion of bad debts to pay them to buy things
Spending priorities - something to cut - helping good UK producers and enforcement theme - Department for Business Overseas Buyer Scheme and Export Credit Guarantee scheme example
If the Greater London Authority (GLA) wants to continue running trade shows with subsidised PR and ask for Department for Business support, I suggest it do this:
Every known and legal UK clothing & footwear factory to be invited to nominate good customers to show.
Exhibitors to show a good reference from a UK factory, as a reasonable customer that pays.
Factories to be named on the products and exhibition web site.
Show to be held in Leicester where there are factories to see, space on public transport and space in hotel rooms.
No preference for design graduates from run-up shows organised by colleges.
Economic performance reports should not be commissioned by the same people who get the grant. That's a case of the public sector marking its own homework by allowing Oxford Economics what they want to read in the Value of Fashion report.
If the GLA introduced these changes, maybe the Department for Business could join-in with the Overseas Buyer Scheme and Export Credit Guarantee scheme, as there would be a chance of putting more business into UK clothes factories and helping more of them become legal.
Spending priorities - something to cut - helping good UK producers and enforcement theme - the unpopular course lobby - example of expensive harmful scheme lobbied-for and managed by a college that's unpopular with students - Central government co-operation with London Government example
Imagine that you were trying to sell UK-made products as an ethical choice, and your wallet supplier JJ Blackledge closed one weekend -the last cheap one in the UK willing to do business with you for small orders. The receivers sold tools to a firm that gets stuff done in China. The same weekend, just down the road from them in Manchester, someone paid from your taxes at a London College of Fashion office sends you this email under cover of multiple agency labels that provide 'social proof'.
Sourcing materials or manufacturing in China should be considered seriously if you want to compete in a global market and keep production cost low. Many do not think that China should be your first port of call if you have decided to build your brand on a sustainable business model in which worker's rights are recognised, the materials used are environmentally friendly and your carbon footprint is as small as possible. However, China has started to acknowledge the need for sustainable business practices in the production of textiles and clothing, and has set up the Sustainable Fashion Business Consortium in Hong Kong in 2008 to promote just that.
Own-it,Ethical Fashion Forum and Creative Connexionshave invited a panel of experts to discuss the current situation in China, how designers can source manufacturers and material that meets their ethical standards and how they can monitor compliance. A lawyer will speak about important clauses in manufacturing or licensing contracts concerning IP rights and confidentiality, as well as what to do when you are faced with counterfeits that are cheap, unethically sourced and damage your good name.
The style is to include a lot of names of offices to provide 'social proof' as ad agents put it, and to 'nudge'. It is hard to know which agencies are different words for the same organisation, like Own-it and London College of Fashion at University of the Arts, and which are fellow-travellers, and how taxpayers' money gets in their hands. For example, ten years ago, if I had looked for training videos from the sector skills training council, or a training lecture from Business Link, or help from the Knowledge Transfer Partnership at London College of Fashion, I would have got similar things: lectures on how to import. The lectures would emphasise importing in one way rather than another - a more green or 'ethical' way - and say nothing about UK manufacturing. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership person said "we don't do bespoke". The Business Link and Sector Skills courses were both run by Ethical Fashion Forum and Pants to Poverty, which were also promoted in tax-funded "course materials" from London College of Fashion as "case studies" in a document that ended with a note about DfID funding and that claims by the companies were not "verified". Meanwhile the V&A put on a show of "Ethical Fashion" including these unverified companies, as did the Crafts Council. I have a lot of evidence like this and probably more than you want to read, but the proposal is a short one and the last one: fair funding. This is a 2018 quote.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, today set out his £1.1bn vision for East Bank at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park ... a new powerhouse of culture, education, innovation and growth, and welcomed a £151m contribution now secured by the Government ... Stratford Waterfront ... UAL's London College of Fashion
If any college management is to be allowed public funding or even a big tenancy - and even if the Mayor of London supports it - the college should be chosen on criteria.
(a) student satisfaction overall on the National Student Survey scores
(b) student employment after previous courses
(c) plausible routes to self employment and manufacturing such as running a maker lab or a market for products.
(d) services to small business and the unemployed who are not on long degree courses such as library access, cheap consultancy and student placement, and training shown to respond to requests of people in the trade.
(e) surveys of people in the clothing and footwear trade in the area: it should be the type of college they want
(f) it should probably be in Leicester and not Stratford.
Thank you for reading this far.
John Robertson, Veganline.com .
F1 Since writing "It would be good if there were expert advice from economics teachers about this, in the main-stream and in their textbooks. There is not", and sending this to people, I checked Core-Econ.org/the-economy/book/text/18.html and its list of objections to free trade, but the text implies that you have to be a quoted economist to add to the list. My 1984 textbook, Begg Fischer and Dornbush Economics, British Edition has a half page of exceptions too. Neither lists social insurance differences between countries as a good reason for a tariff and my college lectures quoted the Multi Fibre Agreement as a barrier to third world development.