EU to label clothes made with real fur, leather

Clothes on a rack [Ulamonge design]

Clothes on a rack [Ulamonge design]

Consumers will no longer be at risk of buying by mistake textiles that contain real fur or leather after the European Parliament backed new labelling rules yesterday (11 May). 

The Parliament's negotiating team, led by Dutch liberal MEP Toine Manders (ALDE), won concessions from member states that will lead to mandatory labelling of fur and leather parts and a feasibility study on origin labelling.

Under the new rules, any use of animal-derived materials will have to be clearly stated on textile product labels.

Fur, for example, is often used to trim cheaper garments, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between real fur and good quality fake varieties.

After yesterday's vote, products containing "non-textile parts of animal origin" must be labelled as such.

EU mulls introducing 'Made In' labels

The decision also means that imported shoes, clothes, leather, furniture, ceramics, high-tech steel and other products worth billions of euros are one step closer to carrying labels that show where they were made when sold in the EU.

The Parliament expects the new rules to ensure that new fibres and innovative products reach the market more quickly.  

The European Commission tabled its proposal for a regulation in January 2009. Since then, the Parliament and EU member states have been grappling with the text after MEPs had backed 63 amendments.

Negotiations between MEPs and national diplomats on the legislation were lengthy and highlighted divisions not only between the Parliament and Council as a whole, but also among member states themselves, pitting representatives of countries that have large manufacturing bases against those that mainly import and distribute foreign goods.

Countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal had long pushed for mandatory 'Made In' labels, which they hoped would act as a brake on growing low-cost imports, whether Chinese furniture and roof tiles, Indian clothes or Vietnamese shoes.

Opposing them were distribution-heavy states such as Sweden and Britain, which were concerned about red tape and falling profits and wanted optional labelling to continue.

Yesterday MEPs approved by a show of hands a second-reading agreement on the regulation struck by the Parliament and the Council just before Easter.

Towards an EU-wide labelling system?

The Parliament and member states asked the European Commission to conduct by 30 September 2013 a study on hazardous substances used in textile production to determine whether there is a link between allergic reactions and chemicals like colorings, biocides or nanoparticles.

The EU assembly and the Council also asked the Commission to produce by 2013 a report and potential legislative proposals on a new labelling scheme to give consumers "accurate information on the country of origin and additional information ensuring full traceability of textile products".

Dutch liberal MEP Toine Manders (ALDE), responsible for steering the legislation through the Parliament, said the report and study would focus on "possible harmonisation of sizes and care labels, the use of independent symbols or codes and on new forms of electronic labelling like […] RFID".

"We will be able to modernise and simplify in a few years the necessary information to end users," Manders added.

MEPs had sought to make origin or 'Made In' labels mandatory for textile products imported from third countries. But member states found the idea too controversial and it was dropped pending the outcome of the Commission's study.

The regulation must still be signed into law by member states, but given that the agreement was struck before Easter this is considered a formality and is expected to take place within weeks.

The new rules will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of EU law, but companies will be granted a two-and-a-half year transition period to adapt to the new labelling requirements. 

Andrew Williams

"The new regulation will significantly contribute to the operation of the single market and will enhance competition," said Hungarian Minister of State for EU Affairs Enik? Gy?ri, expressing her conviction that it will "encourage innovation in the textile and clothing sector, whilst allowing fibre users and consumers to benefit more readily from new and innovative products".

"The regulation stipulates that the labels must indicate the exact fibre composition, but it also introduces a new labelling requirement for non-textile parts of animal origin, so that consumers can make informed decisions," Gy?ri said.

She said possible future labelling requirements to be introduced pending the outcome of a European Commission study "could include handling instructions, the unification of sizes, the indication of the country of origin and allergic substances, electronic labelling and other technologies".

Consumers, allergy sufferers and animals will benefit from the new textile labelling rules approved by the European Parliament, according to Swedish leftist MEP Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL).

"We're always saying that consumer power is important, but if we're serious about this, we have to live up to it and give consumers a chance to use their power. We have to ensure that they have enough product information so that they can make a conscious, informed choice," she said.

"Voluntary and self-regulatory measures for the labelling of fur products don't work. Consumers must have the information to be able to ethically opt out of fur products and the cruel conditions in which they are often produced," Svensson added.

"We have an interesting proposal here but we need to be sure that this in put in place and that the information is available throughout all member states," said French MEP Jacky Henin (GUE/NGL).

"We need the means to fight against counterfeiting both outside and within EU borders. It is a question of political will, but unfortunately we're putting more effort into getting rid of Tunisians than dealing with real problems. Sadly, it's easier for a product to move around the EU than a human being," Henin added.

"Today's vote can be considered as a signal the European Parliament is sending to the 27 EU member-state governments to push for their consent on the introduction of the traceability of textile products through comprehensive and more authentic information," said Italian centre-right MEP Lara Comi, vice-chair of the Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee and European People’s Party (EPP) group shadow rapporteur on textile names and related labelling of textile products..

"This is a major improvement compared to the former legislation on the 'Made in' Regulation," Comi added.

Welcoming the MEPs' vote, Humane Society International, an animal welfare group, said the new regulation would help shoppers make informed decisions and avoid fur if they had ethical objections.

"Many consumers can't tell the difference between fake and real animal fur," said HIS, adding that manufacturers currently do not have to indicate the presence of real animal fur.

Amid growing concern among EU member states and industry over mounting numbers of misleading and/or fraudulent origin marks being carried by imported products, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a regulation on the indication of the country of origin of certain products imported from third countries in December 2005.

The draft legislation, which is designed to protect EU manufacturers from cheap Asian imports, was backed by the European Parliament’s trade committee last September.

Meanwhile, the Commission submitted legislative proposals on clearer clothing labels in January 2009. 

  • Companies will have two-and-a-half years to adapt to the new labelling rules following publication of the regulation in the Official Journal of EU law. 

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