Sunday, April 21, 2024

France’s fast fashion bill targets Shein, Temu

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France’s fast fashion bill takes aim at retail behemoths lawmakers argue damage the environment, hurt the economy and feed impulse buyers.

France’s lower house of parliament unanimously approved a “kill bill” on 14 March that targets fast fashion and ultra-fast fashion sold by online retail giants such as Shein and Temu. The measure is a move to offset the fast fashion industry’s environmental impact by banning the advertising of certain ultra-fast-fashion companies – and penalising them with annually increasing increments of up to 10 euros (£8.54 or $10.92) per article of clothing by 2030. The bill would also mandate that fast fashion retailers include an item’s reuse, repair, recycling and environmental impact near the product’s price.

Fast fashion is widely considered low-quality apparel. It is produced rapidly to follow current trends in the industry and sold at rock-bottom prices. Fast fashion allows cost-conscious consumers to regularly update and expand their wardrobes with knockoff en vogue styles, and although the monetary cost is low, experts say both textile factory workers and the earth’s environment are paying the – hefty – price. 

“It’s important when the price conversation comes up for people to realize that the price of fast fashion is being kept artificially low,” said Emily Stochl, the vice president of advocacy and community engagement at Remake, a sustainable fashion nonprofit organisation. 

“It’s essentially being subsidized by the fact that these companies are not paying their workers adequately. So this idea that [fast fashion pricing] is the bar for clothing that consumers have come to expect – it’s an artificial construction.”

Stochl points to previous advertising bans such as cigarette advertisements in the US in the 1970s and the UK in the early aughts, likening the addictive nature of tobacco to the impact fast fashion has had on consumers. France’s new bill uses similar language, stating, “This evolution of the apparel sector towards ephemeral fashion, combining increased volumes and low prices, is influencing consumer buying habits by creating buying impulses and a constant need for renewal, which is not without environmental, social and economic consequences.” 

Shein, a fast fashion behemoth founded in China and headquartered in Singapore, argued in a statement to the BBC that the bill’s impact will “worsen the purchasing power of French consumers, at a time when they are already feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.” 

Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations at Reformation, an eco-friendly brand favored by the likes of Taylor Swift, Monica Lewinsky and Sydney Sweeney, says that ultra-fast fashion brands represent the “insane excess” the fashion industry is seeing in terms of speed and volume. Talbot adds that using regulation as a vehicle to drive change may be the only option, as slowing overconsumption seems unlikely in a market with a piping-hot demand that isn’t simmering down. 

How do we start to create incentives for good actors – or on the flip side, tax bad actors – to force brands to pay for negative externalities – Kathleen Talbot

“What’s interesting about the proposed French bill and regulations like the New York Fashion Act is they do have similar aims,” says Talbot. “We’re asking these big questions around how we account for the negative impacts of fashion on people and the planet. How do we start to create incentives for good actors – or on the flip side, tax bad actors – to force brands to pay for negative externalities? I wish it was easier to do that. What we’re seeing are these really location-specific, siloed efforts.” 

“But I think it’s a start”, Talbot adds. “Hopefully, [it] helps become a model or move other regulatory bodies to consider these issues and consider what the role of regulation is in addressing the challenges we’re seeing in the industry.” 

When approaching lasting change through policy reform, Stochl points out that vital workers in the garment-maker and textile waste management communities are most harshly impacted by fast fashion – and they are centered in the development of the proposed legislation.

“Lawmakers should ensure that the funds collected via these penalties flow in the direction of where that environmental impact is occurring,” Stochl continued. “For example, the frontline communities facing the most environmental impact because of fast fashion are often communities in the global south… So as penalties are collected to address environmental impact, how are those funds distributed to the frontline communities most impacted? As far as I can tell, the policy doesn’t address those things.”

Temu, a Chinese-owned e-commerce company, has been widely criticised by politicians in the UK and US alike – and in 2023, a US government investigation warned of an “extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labor.” 

Temu says it “strictly prohibits” the use of forced, penal, or child labour by any of its merchants. 

In 2021, a report by Swiss advocacy group Public Eye, found that a number of Shein employees across six sites in Guangzhou were found to be working 75-hour weeks. And in 2023, a group of US lawmakers called for Shein to be investigated over claims that forced labour of the Uyghur people – a Turkic ethnic group within China – is used to manufacture some of the clothes the brand sells. Shein told the BBC that it has “zero tolerance” for forced labour.

A spokesperson for Temu told the BBC that the brand “acknowledges the important environmental concerns addressed by the proposed French legislation,” and argued that they do not operate as a fast fashion company because they are a marketplace and do not manufacture their own products.

Both Temu and Shein separately tell the BBC that their on-demand business models reduce waste compared with traditional business models. 

(BBC)

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