Sylvie Gallage-Alwis and Nikita Yahouedeou examine France’s initial steps towards regulating fast fashion in Apparel Insider

By Sylvie Gallage-Alwis & Nikita Yahouedeou

Partner Sylvie Gallage-Alwis and Associate Nikita Yahouedeou examine Bill no. 2129, passed on 14 March 2024 by the French National Assembly, with the objective of regulating fast fashion in the country.

Sylvie and Nikita’s article was published in Apparel Insider’s May/June 2024 print edition and can be found here

Over the past few years, fast fashion has become a real phenomenon in our society and our wardrobes, transforming our consumption patterns and the way we purchase clothes. In 2023, fast fashion generated more than 1.7 billion dollars in revenue worldwide. Ultra-fast fashion has even emerged as a sub-genre since the COVID-19 pandemic and is gradually climbing up the list of brands and clothing most bought by French citizens.

While at first glance, this type of purchases is advantageous for consumers given their relatively low cost, the French Government has set out to regulate it to limit its environmental impact. Bill no. 2129, passed on 14 March 2024 by the French National Assembly under a special fast-track procedure, is regarded as a first step in this direction.

  1. Fast fashion: a concept still caught in a legal limbo

As fast fashion is a relatively new phenomenon, there is still no strict definition of this term.

This Bill opts for an approach which includes a calculation of the number of references “displayed on the electronic interface” by e-market suppliers, based on thresholds to be set by Decree by the French Council of State. The Decree will be of the utmost importance, as it will dictate the applicability of certain measures within the Bill to companies doing what is akin to “fast-fashion” or, less strictly, to what is akin to “ultra-fast fashion” only, depending on the thresholds established. It should be noted that the numbers of unsold items will not be considered in the calculation, provided that the sellers selling these unsold items did not originally own them.

This is not the first time that controls have been devised to regulate fast fashion.  Measures have already been taken by the French Government, for instance with the 2020 “anti-waste” law, which introduced a “repair bonus” for products to promote circular economy. Similarly, the 2021 “climate and resilience” law introduced an environmental labelling, known as “eco-score”, in some sectors including the textile sector.

  1. A Bill that is paving the way for future regulations

In France, fast fashion is a controversial and multifaceted issue that the French Parliament has decided to tackle from an environmental angle, in particular to draw the attention of young people (main customers of these companies), as they are increasingly interested in these issues.

This is why the Bill supported by Anne-Cécile Violland, Chair of the Health Environment Group at the French National Assembly, has been well received. Broadly speaking, its aim is to provide consumers with improved information on the implications of their purchases and to reduce environmental impact: “this is not about specifically targeting a brand but about turning the sector around”, Anne-Cécile Violland assures.

Voted on 14 March 2024, the French National Assembly unanimously passed this Bill aiming at reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry.

The Bill contains three main measures:

  1. Duty to inform: information on the website to raise consumer awareness

The Bill directly targets the fast fashion stakeholders by providing for an obligation for the “individuals who engage in the commercial practice referred to in I (to) put on display on their online selling platform” information, to be determined at a later stage by Decree, aiming at inciting “sobriety, re-employment, repair, reuse and recycling of products and raising awareness of their environmental impact”.

This Bill was devised to be more inclusive of current technologies (e.g. mobile applications), in order to prevent the creation of waste by any means. The aforementioned display will have to comply with certain requirements, such as being visible on the product pages of the companies concerned, or being legible in all formats, and be mentioned nearby the price.

Failure to comply with these future obligations could result in an administrative fine of €3,000 for a natural person and €15,000 for a legal entity maximum, as provided by Article L. 541-9-4-1 of the French Environmental Code. It should be noted that platforms for the resale of unsold products seem to not be concerned by this provision, but measures have been taken to limit their exposure to the public anyway.

  1. Advertising ban

One of the main factors explaining fast fashion’s success is the communication. There are many advertisements promoting fast fashion brands, targeting all types of audience. Companies use affiliate programmes on social networks through influencers to create engagement, and thus have constant and almost ‘automatic’ advertising at lower cost by taking advantage of the community of affiliated influencers.

With this Bill, the Parliament is seeking to put an end to these methods of communication. Indeed, the text includes a ban on advertising that extends to social networks, where the promotion of these items is at its most prosperous, and therefore affects affiliation programmes. Failure to comply with these new provisions will be subject, from 1 January 2025, to a fine of up to €20,000 for a natural person and €100,000 for a legal entity.

This solution already used several times in France (e.g. cigarettes, alcohol…) and internationally, has proved its effectiveness.

In addition, DGCCRF agents may be called in to monitor and punish breaches of the obligation to provide information and advertising.

  1. Introduction of an environmental penalty system for companies in the fast fashion industry

The Bill also suggests introducing a financial contribution (similar to the environmental penalty that exists in the automotive sector), with the aim of strengthening the extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for textile clothing, household linen and footwear. The environmental penalty would be calculated by considering the life cycle of products, with particular reference to two new criteria for adjusting the contributions paid by producers under the EPR scheme: the environmental and carbon impact of products.

This environmental penalty would take the form of a financial contribution (€5 per product from 2025, then an additional €1 per year to reach €10 per product in 2030) to be paid one year after the assessment of the company’s score (the eco-score, tested in the textile sector between 2020 and 2022, will come into force by the end of 2024 at the latest). It is a mechanism that has already been used in France with polluting vehicles, where a €1,000 increase in the malus on a car resulted in an average drop in sales of vehicles subject to the malus of around 11%. Nevertheless, the implementation of this tax in France could have an impact on the price of goods, leading to an overall increase in prices.

The Bill also provides for the introduction of a bonus for virtuous companies. The financial contributions paid in respect of the environmental penalty will “mainly be reallocated in the form of bonuses to producers of products that meet eco-design criteria for improved environmental performance”. The penalty would therefore be a way of financing bonuses for virtuous companies in the textile industry.

Lastly, the Bill suggests making it mandatory for foreign companies selling their products in France in the textile sector to appoint an authorised representative responsible for ensuring compliance with the obligations arising from the extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme.

This Bill must now be examined by the French Senate. The French Senate will be free to amend the Bill as it finds suitable. The substance of the Bill could therefore substantially evolve over the next months. When it will be definitively approved, fast fashion companies will have to adapt their business model accordingly.

This Bill comes at a time of international awareness regarding the impacts of fast fashion on the environment. Indeed, in 2023, Members of the European Parliament endorsed a report containing recommendations relating to fast fashion. In a recent press release, the G7 also expressed its commitment to address fast fashion. France will therefore be considered either as a pioneering EU Member State, or, as a EU Member State adding barriers to the EU single market.

A reaction from the EU Commission could therefore happen, with the launch of an infringement procedure against France, not because the EU Commission is against the idea of laws regulating fast fashion but because of an isolated French initiative that was not coordinated with the other EU Member States. This already happened with the infringement procedure launched by the EU Commission against France for the Triman logo, the EU Commission considering that it constitutes an obstacle to the EU Single Market.

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