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This article is written by Shivani Garg pursuing Diploma in International Business Law from LawSikho.

Introduction

French people have the history of making a mark all over the world whether it comes to food, art, or fashion; nothing is left untouched by them. Making a mark is just an understatement for France as over the centuries it has changed drastically in every aspect that many other nations fail to even see. Well, doesn’t stop there; the recent revolution that France brought into the picture was beyond imagination. From banning the wastage of food to banning the disposal of clothes, France became the first nation whose goals are all set to save the environment from further destruction at every cost. All of this became possible with the coming in of the new French legislation, bill on the fight against waste, and the circular economy. The person responsible for bringing all these changes is none other than the Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Brune Poirson who has now been declared as the unofficial minister of fashion of France. Her analysis led to a shocking revelation that the fashion industry causes as much pollution as any oil or gas industry does, and yet the fashion industry never grabbed any attention in this regard. 

The release of annual reports of many huge brands like Burberry, H&M, and Louis Vuitton about the whopping cost of finished goods physically being destroyed by them raised concerns about the environment. Do you even know why these brands destroy all their unsold stuff? Precisely, there are two reasons behind destroying unsold commodities. The first one is easy to guess, to save the brand face. Yes! The whole environment is affected just because these brands prioritize brand names over anything else. The opinion of Kenzo Takada, a Japanese fashion designer, living in France, is worth getting highlighted here. She says, “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick to the same menu”. You must be wondering whether there is any profit for the company in destroying these goods? Well, here goes the second and more important reason behind the destruction of unsold/unused products – according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection program, “If imported merchandise is unused and exported or destroyed under Customs supervision, 99 percent of the duties, taxes or fees paid on the merchandise because of importation may be recovered as drawback’’. And so, both the face value and money make their way back home. 

Since the destruction of marketable products by brands was already a trending topic of discussion among people of France and many brands were caught in fire after the release of data in 2017-18, the ban on unsold was put together with the fight against food waste in the bill. The regulatory measures were enacted by the end of 2019. Let’s figure out more about this new French fashion law which will change the entire picture of the textile sector all over the world in the coming times.

Environmental laws about the garments

France is in full swing by taking the issues of the environment as the highest priority. French Ministry of Environment wants to make a mandatory scoring system in France under which apparel and textile products must display a rating from A to E to demonstrate how environmentally friendly they are. How will this help overall? Well, all this is done in accordance with the anti-waste and Circular Economy Law 2020 under which the scoring system will help the entire fashion industry to lower its negative impact on the environment. Sounds interesting, right? Let your customer identify and choose the most environmentally friendly products. All these efforts are put not just for France but also to help the UN achieve its goals on sustainable development.

United Nations on sustainable development

In 2015, the United Nation created 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the aim to achieve them all by 2030. Out of those 17 goals, one of the goals is ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’. What exactly do we mean by responsible consumption and production? It simply implies sustainable consumption and production patterns. This can be achieved in two ways: 

  1. Reducing your waste, and 
  2. Being thoughtful about what you buy and choosing a sustainable option whenever possible.

The other goals that have been included in sustainable development are notably; avoid wasting water, climate action, industry, and innovation, etc. as surprising as it would sound, the apparel industry contributes about 10% of all the greenhouse gas emissions and also uses a huge amount of water to make apparels hampering the very notion of sustainable development. Well, there is still hope even if you see all dark. 

To meet up the standard of sustainability and contribute towards the goals the UN has set for us all, there are few companies out there that are constantly working on it. Levis, an extremely popular jeans brand, is reducing chemical and water use during production. You will be amazed to know that it actually uses 96% less water than what is consumed in normal production.  Then, Sézane, a French manufacturer of women’s apparel focuses on producing zero waste when possible. But we need more companies coming up with such green and sustainable initiatives. Let us now move to the innovative and much required law passed by France in this respect.

The new french fashion law: Anti-waste law

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Just as in 2016, France totally focused on minimizing the food waste as a result of which a law was passed to cut food waste at the point of sale called food waste law. Right after that, fashion waste was brought into the limelight. To execute this agenda, the French government proposed new regulations as part of France’s new Circular Economy Roadmap that would prohibit apparel brands and retailers from discarding or incinerating sold items. In 2019, France became the first nation in the world to adopt a policy to fight the disposal of unsold. 

The law is presented as a leap forward against the ‘produce, consume and discard’ model. One can see how serious the French government is when bringing things into action even if it means an adverse effect on its economy. It’s ready to shake the grounds to make an impact. The law just not applies to the ban of designer clothes but also on luxury goods companies, hygiene products, and cosmetics from destroying unsold or returned items. The ban would come into force by 2023. Further, all everything unsold or returned items must be redirected either be reused, redistributed, or recycled. The same law will also implement a ‘polluter pays’ clause, which requires companies to finance the destruction of waste that they create.

How is France recycling clothes?

“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – Nathaniel Branden

The interest in the environment and more towards having a safe life resulted in more demand for recycling options. Around 60% of the clothes usually end up in the dump, there is no lie about that. So what happens next? The garments that are thrown into garbage are collected by associations or companies in the ECO TLC sector. Next comes the labor part, the collected garments are then sorted by hand that is to be resold to second–hand stores or sent to textile recycling companies. After that, all the textiles that cannot be worn anymore are further sent for recycling to be cut, shredded, frayed, or crushed, and then it is transformed into rags, insulating articles, new clothing, or secondary raw material. France has few brands that literally use recycled clothes such as Hopaal, Maison Izard, etc. are already setting examples for other huge brands telling them what is possible. 

How is it corporate social responsibility?

Responsibilities can only be avoided by someone till the time you are not answerable to anyone. Well, something similar happened in France which made it nearly impossible to avoid social and environmental responsibility. With elections coming up and parallelly documentary on Amazon destroying products that were returned by customers on behalf of vendors becoming a sensation, the whole sustainability became the political agenda. That is to say, the laws regarding waste were to grab the vote of the voters. Eventually, everything became corporate social responsibility with the French government coming into action. The famous frugal French people are leaders in producer responsibility and waste reduction. As a result, waste prevention laws affecting grocery stores and laws requiring manufacturers of clothing to contribute to the cost of end-of-life-product disposal have already been implemented. Executive director of the Dress for Success charity, Fionnuala Shannon, which gives office-appropriate clothing and interview skills to vulnerable women worldwide shares the same thoughts saying, “Every organization has a duty to have a corporate and social responsibility.”

Impact of COVID-19 on the textile industry 

It is not a hidden truth that the COVID-19 has severely hit the textile industry. Fashion brands all around the globe are facing similar fortunes while many of them hit rock bottom hard as the entire brand was shut down and all the stores closed. Brands like Victoria’s Secret, a luxury lingerie brand, happen to be one of them which is no longer available for sale. It did break the hearts of many women out there. While some stocks are being burnt by the designers all over, the case is not the same when it comes to luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering in France as the ban on bonfires on all consumer goods has been imposed by 2023. On the brighter side, in the midst of the fallout period, Burberry has already laid down its strategy to deal with the crisis by putting a discount on overstock at outlets or else by donating it to charity or just recycling it, since it already faced a huge blow in 2018. Somebody learnt and came prepared for the worst times, and that set a good example.

Conclusion

There is no doubt about the fact that such a policy will strengthen the concept of environmental protection and sustainability all over the world. The law seems harmless in the long run as the areas like tax were also considered and taken care of for the companies that reuse or recycle clothing rather than the ones who dump them in a landfill. Sustainability is to be practiced alongside development and profit, to assure that no one is at an actual loss. But as we all know changes that have a longer impact don’t come without any harm. With overstock, brand image, regulations, and bills coming together in the times like COVID-19, only a few can manage to do the charity work with no holes in their pocket while others can’t even think of charity work even if they want. 

Well, everything along with the pressure from legislators or consumers, the entire business model is in question. This won’t work anymore and as a result, a new model will come into being. This piece of legislation is giving a boost to startups as they are coming up to the rescue of brands for proper reuse, recycling, donation, etc. of the products. Apart from that, who knows, just like France, our country might ponder upon having the Ministry of Fashion and the entire department to keep a check upon the destruction that’s being created by these brands. If I am not wrong, future generations will literally thank Ms. Brune Poirson for many things, especially her legislation’s huge contribution towards saving mother Earth and working towards the area that remains neglected for a long time. 

References


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