In a bid to right the wrongs of past transgressions made by the fashion sector and beyond, European legislators, politicians and committees have begun to crack down on various malpractices carried out by the industry through new bills and regulations, many of which address human rights issues and environmental missteps. The European Parliament has taken to discussing, debating and, occasionally, adopting new rules acknowledging these issues that would require EU-based companies to clean up their act when it comes to these affairs.
FashionUnited has outlined some of the most recent bills, proposals and resolutions that have come to light relating to the EU and its fashion industry.
Exploitation in workforce and enforcing ethical practices
Last week, the European Parliament adopted rules to integrate human rights and environmental impact into governance, which would require companies across all sectors to prevent, end or mitigate the negative impact of their activities in these areas where necessary. Under the draft law, which would apply to companies that place products in the EU market and European companies that operate in other countries, members will also have to monitor and assess the impact of their value-chain partners, including those in supply, distribution, storage, waste management and more. In relation to the environment, companies will further be required to implement a transition plan to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Those deemed non-compliant will be liable for damages and could be sanctioned by national supervisory authorities, which can involve “naming and shaming”, taking goods off the market or receiving fines. It builds on a similar proposal sought out by the European Commission to prohibit products that have been made through forced labour being sold in the EU market, a legislation that is awaiting a committee decision.
The end of fast fashion
An imperative part of the EU’s current efforts to tackle issues in fashion come in the form of bills and proposals that primarily look to put an end to “fast fashion”. In the latest move, the Parliament said it had adopted recommendations for the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles, which calls for textile products sold in the EU to be “more durable, easier to resume, repair and recycle”. Throughout the supply chain, production should also be respectful of human, social and labour rights, as well as environmental and animal welfare.
The proposal was a new strategy outlined by the Commission as part of its European Green Deal package. Its ultimate goal is to make almost all physical goods on the EU market more friendly to the environment, circular and energy efficient throughout their lifecycle. Other proposals in the package included the establishment of a regulatory framework to make sure the delivery of climate objectives could be delivered and new rules to provide consumers with more information to make sustainable choices.
It builds on an additional resolution adopted by the European Commission last year, under the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), which is scheduled for debate in EU Parliament and could come into force in 2025. The bill would potentially introduce digital passports for a variety of products, including clothing, and would also make it forbidden to destroy unsold clothing.
Speaking on the move, MEP Delara Burkhardt said: "Consumers alone cannot reform the global textile sector through their purchasing habits. If we allow the market to self-regulate, we leave the door open for a fast fashion model that exploits people and the planet’s resources. The EU must legally oblige manufacturers and large fashion companies to operate more sustainably. People and the planet are more important than the textile industry’s profits."
Despite the efforts and procedures carried out by the EU, its commission released a report this week in which it identified the 18 member states that were at risk of missing one or both of the 2025 re-use and recycling targets for packaging waste and the 2035 landfilling target. Among the countries were Portugal, Spain, Sweden, France, Ireland, Greece and Ireland. Meanwhile, nine states were reported to be on track to meet 2025 targets, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The report noted that there were “significant” differences in waste management across the EU, adding that reforms were needed to improve rates.
Textiles and deforestation
Other new laws sought out by the European Parliament are particularly focused on dealing with textiles that have a negative impact on the environment. An issue that has been under its radar for a while now is that of microplastics, tiny plastic particles that derive from a variety of sources including clothing and textiles. The issue was recently pushed via a whitepaper published earlier this year which called on the EU to mandate filters in washing machines, alongside a wider demand for systemic change in the textile industry. In April, the Commission also welcomed a positive vote for a proposal brought by the Reach committee to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products. The proposal is currently subject to a three month scrutiny by the European Parliament and the Council before it can be adopted by the Commission.
A similar law agreed on by the EU related to the use of rubber in production, with the union having agreed to ban the import of products linked to deforestation, a move that applies to the popular clothing and footwear textile, among other materials. The EU is planning to implement strict checks ensuring that forests weren’t damaged to create products, with strong due diligence rules for companies to follow if they want relevant items to enter the EU market. In line with the law, companies are also required to collect precise geographical information on the farmland where their materials were sourced so they can then be checked for compliance.