Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Will Europe ‘End Fast Fashion’?

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Europe’s policy makers have called to “end fast fashion” as they push to toughen oversight of the industry.

On Thursday, the EU parliament voted strongly in favour of a suite of recommendations designed to force the fashion industry to operate more sustainably and help consumers to make more responsible and ethical choices, pushing to bolster the scope and ambition of a regulatory roadmap laid out by the European Commission last year.

Parliamentarians called for a clear definition of fast fashion focused on low cost, low quality, high volume production and tougher measures to fight excessive production and consumption of textiles.

They added their support to an agreement by EU governments earlier this month to ban the destruction of unsold textiles, but also pushed for legally binding, quantifiable climate targets and broader environmental requirements to cover issues including biodiversity, animal welfare, delayed action on microplastics pollution and tougher restrictions on hazardous chemicals. And they said more effort is needed to address labour abuses in the industry, recommending action to address unfair purchasing practices and assess opportunities to support non-EU manufacturing countries to decarbonise.

In short, they want to change fast fashion’s business model.

Ending Fast Fashion

The policy wishlist is the latest effort to shape the agenda as momentum behind efforts to regulate fashion more strictly grows.

The sector is also under scrutiny in major markets like the UK and US, but Europe has led the charge, as part of a wider push to make the 27-nation bloc’s economy more sustainable.

EU parliamentarians also approved a groundbreaking draft law Thursday that would require big companies in fashion and other industries to check for human rights and environmental abuses in their supply chains.

But while the proposed due diligence rules passed in a tight vote — a sign of broadening pushback against the EU’s environmental agenda from business-friendly lawmakers — measures aimed at throttling throwaway fashion received strong support.

Over the last 30 years, the amount of clothes bought by the average European consumer has increased dramatically as cheap fast fashion has become more widely available. At the same time, clothing waste has ballooned.

About 5.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded every year in the EU, largely ending up in landfill or incinerated. Most clothes have only been worn seven or eight times when they’re disposed of by consumers, according to the EU. Textiles rank among the bloc’s most polluting sectors, accounting for as much as six percent of its overall environmental impact, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

At the same time, the industry is also among the least regulated in the market.

“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,” MEP Delara Burkhardt said in a press release. “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.”

Big Ambitions, Slow Moves

How swiftly and how strictly new measures to regulate fashion will be introduced remains to be seen.

The EU’s proposed due diligence requirements must now be negotiated with the bloc’s 27 member states before becoming law and could still face further challenges or changes. Parliament is expected to vote later this month on requirements to make products that are longer lasting, easier to repair and recycle, which now seem likely to also include a ban on the destruction of unsold good. A long-awaited draft of planned greenwashing regulations published in March remained vague on critical technical details around the standards and methodologies brands should use to make credible sustainability claims.

Other policy moves are in earlier stages and even once laws are passed there will likely be a period of several years before they are implemented.

Nonetheless, the direction of regulatory travel is increasingly clear and moving faster in individual countries and states. Countries including France and Germany have already toughened up due diligence requirements, while in the US, the states of New York and California have passed bans on toxic “forever” chemicals commonly used in waterproof outerwear. Moves to make fashion pay to clean up unwanted old clothes are gaining ground and broader efforts to make companies more transparent and accountable for their sustainability commitments will also capture the industry.

Many big brands have already stepped up spending on traceability tools in anticipation of demands for more data and disclosure and started to beef up their compliance and policy teams.

And though the EU’s moves are unlikely to sound a death knell for fast fashion, they will change the rules of the game.

“This is just the beginning,” said Pascale Moreau, founder of consultancy Ohana Public Affairs. “They really want to change our industry… honestly it’s crazy that it hasn’t been regulated before.”

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