What businesses need to know about the UN Fashion Charter

clothes hanging on wooden hangers - white and orange

Updated May 2019

The UN Fashion Charter launched at COP24, the international climate change talks in Poland, where thousands of international leaders, businesses and NGOs gathered in support of international climate action. Encouragingly the overwhelming message emerging from the discussions is that business can be a driving force of climate action not just a culprit.

The fashion industry has been under the microscope recently as a creator of post-consumer waste mountains, affecting ocean ecosystems and accused of driving a level of unsustainable consumption as consumers race to keep up with the latest trends. However, the Carbon Trust has been working increasingly with the fashion and apparel sector over the past year, in part due to the galvanization of the industry itself and its engagement in sustainability, which is encouraging.

This positive trend has culminated in key industry leaders coming together to develop the UN Fashion Charter, which aligns with the aims of the Paris Agreement and sets a roadmap towards carbon neutrality by 2050 – the date by which the UN believes it is possible to fully decarbonise the global fashion sector.

It is important to note that this is an industry-led initiative with the full backing of 43 companies so far, representing 31 of the major fashion brands.

So, what exactly does the UN Fashion Charter aim to achieve and how can companies get involved?

The Charter was born out of the recognition that the fashion & apparel sector cannot achieve the targets set in Paris in 2015 based on its current business models. The Charter lays out a pathway for all companies within the fashion and apparel value chain from raw material production through to retail and distribution. It is a sector-wide commitment for all companies to reduce their carbon impact by 30% by 2030 across scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions.

Through the Charter, a series of goals for the industry to work towards have been established. These span a wide range of areas including a commitment to engage logistics companies, to encourage suppliers to switch to renewable electricity generation, to switch to materials with a lower environmental impact and increase their recyclability. Crucially it also includes action to influence consumption behaviour by engaging with consumers on how to use and re-use clothing.

Who can get involved?

Any company working in the fashion and apparel sector can get involved. Some industry leaders are already working towards some of the commitments; however, the UN Fashion Charter also provides a useful framework for the majority of companies that have not yet begun their sustainability journey. The challenge for many brands is that the overwhelming majority of environmental impacts lie within the supply chain, which until recently has been viewed as outside the realm of control.

Regulators, consumers, investors and brands themselves no longer regard this as a justified reason for inaction and there is a growing expectation for brands to lead their value chain to reduce the overall environmental impact of their products. For this reason, the UN Charter encourages not only fashion brands, but also their suppliers, including those from the logistics and finance sectors to support the goals outlined in the Charter.

How ambitious are the targets set out in the UN Fashion Charter?

The target set by the Charter is ambitious, but achievable. With a strong foundation of good quality data, companies will be able to gain detailed insight into what actions they can take to reduce their emissions by 30% by 2030, or more, if they set individual Science Based Targets. Measuring and understanding the full impact of a company’s value chain will be a crucial step in setting a meaningful strategy.

What can my company do to contribute to the targets?

By conducting a robust baseline footprint of your operations and your value chain, you can identify not only where your highest impacts lie, but also where you are most able to influence them. Doing this quantitative assessment is a manageable initial step for companies to engage with this Charter and carve out their route to joining this industry collaboration and decarbonising the fashion & apparel sector. After all, the Charter’s value can only be fully realised if the industry supports it at scale and individual companies become signatories, and contribute towards achieving the commitments outlined.


This Charter may seem daunting to some companies, but the framework for action that it provides will translate into cost savings and long-term resiliency. The Carbon Trust has nearly 20 years of experience in helping companies to embed best practise to ensure they are making informed economic and environmentally responsible decisions. By setting a robust baseline and science-based target, companies will be able to track their individual progress and ultimately exceed the target set out by this Charter.

Investors will be watching closely at how brands respond to the UN Fashion Charter, as will regulators as demonstrated by the recent Sustainability of the fashion industry inquiry driven by UK Parliament. It makes good business sense to stay ahead and join the raft of brands already supporting this Charter. Good data can drive meaningful change so make sure that your brand is on the right side of the environmental transformation, taking place across the industry.

What has happened since its launch in December? (update May 2019) 

More companies from across the value chain have signed up and initial signatories continue to work towards achieving the goals set out. But as this year’s Pulse of the Industry report set out, the change is not happening fast enough. This year’s analysis demonstrates that while a lot of change happened in 2018, including the development of the UN Fashion Charter, the progress that the sector is making against its goals of increased sustainability has reduced. In fact, it lays out that at its current pace, the fashion and apparel sector will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals or the pathway laid out by the Paris Agreement. As such, we encourage any organisation in the fashion value chain that has not yet considered the UN Fashion Charter to begin to engage with it as a means of driving internal sustainability strategies.

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