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Will France punish ultra-fast fashion brands?


French Environment Minister Christophe Bechu took the opportunity to propose a new law during the Paris Fashion Week 2024.  The law’s objective is to reduce the impact of fast fashion on the environment. The main subjects are: penalties to compensate for environmental impact, a ban on advertising, and more consumer information. The minister also plans a governmental campaign against fast fashion, and instead promoting sustainable practices.

The first article of the law concerns raising consumer awareness by providing more information about the environmental impact of fast fashion, as well as the possibilities for reusing and repairing clothing and accessories. Sellers are obliged to show this information on all internet pages where these products can be purchased, close to the price.

The second article adds the far-reaching and probably most effective measure: penalties. 

Ultra-fast fashion brands will have to pay penalties of up to 10 euros per item sold, or up to 50% of the selling price to compensate their environmental impact. The penalties will gradually increase and reach their maximum by 2030.

The revenue from these penalties will subsidise eco-organisations for the collection, sorting and processing of used products; pay bonuses to companies involved in eco-design initiatives; support research and development; increase resources dedicated to reuse, and finance public campaigns.

French law already banned “greenwashing" marketing practices. The third article additionally prohibits advertising and promotions to prevent further influence on fast-fashion buying behaviour, from 1 January 2025.

The ministry supports the proposal with a detailed explanation. Never have so many new clothes been put on the market, more than 100 billion items are sold worldwide in a year. This craze coincides with the rise of "fast-fashion" brands, which release a very large number of new models on the market and renew their collections permanently. The shift towards ‘ephemeral’ or ultra-fast fashion, with increased volumes and lower prices, influences consumer buying habits by creating buying impulses and a constant need for renewal. This comes with unwanted environmental, social and economic consequences.

The naked truth is that the textile and clothing industry is responsible for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, cotton is the leading crop in terms of pesticide use, 20% of water pollution is related to dyeing and treating textiles, and synthetic clothes lead to the release of plastic microfibres. 

Besides the real environmental health problems, low-cost textile production is also problematic from a social point of view. There are numerous allegations of human rights violations, forced labour, child labour, gender-based violence, and circumvention of local regulations. Employees in the sector rarely receive the wages needed for a decent standard of living.

The explanatory memo specifically addresses the Chinese ready-to-wear company Shein, which on average offers more than 7,200 new clothing models a day, and makes more than 470,000 different products available to consumers. Shein offers 900 times more products than a traditional (French) retailer. The huge range offered attracts many consumers enabling vast economies of scale, all at ever-lower prices. Others are following up on this economic success and adapt their marketing and production strategies, encouraging excessive spending and causing pollution.

The proposal will be debated in French parliament on March 14th.
It should enter into force on January 1, 2025.

The proposed law and related explanatory statements (in French) can be found here:

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