Footwear legislation – labelling and communication
Explaining how the provision of information for consumers on the sustainability of footwear is being regulated by law in a growing number of countries.
Image © hidesy| iStockphoto.com
Consumers in many parts of the world are increasingly becoming aware of the issue of sustainability and the potential environmental impacts of the purchasing decisions they make. As a result, they expect clear and understandable information to be provided in order for them to make sustainable decisions. In fact, a recent UK survey reported that 77 per cent of the consumers who responded want to make choices that are environmentally sustainable, either all or some of the time, and this figure rises to 91.6 per cent for those surveyed aged 18 to 24.
Many organisations do honestly and accurately report the sustainability credentials of their products and operations. However, there is still considerable ‘greenwashing’ taking place, and recently there has been much talk of a new phenomenon called ‘green-hushing’ – please see the box ‘What are ‘greenwashing’ and ‘green-hushing’?’ for an explanation of these terms.
What are ‘greenwashing’ and ‘green-hushing’?
‘Greenwashing’ and ‘green-hushing’ are terms used to describe misleading environmental claims being made by commercial organisations.
Greenwashing typically involves making false, unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims about a product to make it seem more environmentally-friendly than it really is. This might involve using vague statements such as ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ without any further information or evidence to back up the claim. It could also involve highlighting one small environmental benefit of an item, while ignoring other larger issues.
In contrast, green-hushing is when organisations opt not to say anything about what they are doing to be more sustainable, in order to avoid coming under scrutiny and potentially facing allegations of greenwashing.
In some cases, there may be no deliberate intention to mislead or withhold relevant information from the consumer. This is where clearer guidelines and legislation would enable organisations to communicate effectively and support consumers to make informed decisions. In this article, we highlight recent legislative changes that relate to how information relating to sustainable or green claims should be communicated, as well as legislation that requires certain information to provided.
Action already being taken
In the UK, the Competition and Market Authority (CMA)’s ‘Green Claims Code’ came into force in January 2022 and covers six key principles based on existing consumer law. It is intended to help businesses ensure that any claims they make will stand up to legal scrutiny, and also to enable consumers to make educated decisions. A number of organisations in the fashion sector are already under investigation by the CMA for making green claims that are potentially misleading to customers.
What are the principles of the UK’s Green Claims Code?
- claims must be truthful and accurate
- claims must be clear and unambiguous
- claims must not omit or hide important relevant information
- comparisons must be fair and meaningful
- claims must consider the full life cycle of the product or service
The Netherlands has similar guidelines to the UK for making sustainability claims on consumer goods, and the Netherlands Authority for Consumer Markets has already asked some companies to make their environmental claims clearer or remove them. The Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority has also taken action against companies for using information to make environmental claims that breach advertising guidelines and are deemed to be misleading to consumers.
A recent piece of legislation with a very specific focus is the Portuguese Leather Decree, which has been introduced in response to the use of terms such as ‘vegan leather’, ‘faux leather’ and ‘synthetic leather’. These terms have been judged to be misleading, as consumers may reasonably expect that the materials will have the same properties that leather is traditionally associated with – such as durability – which is not always the case.
This Portuguese legislation defines ‘leather’ and ‘tanned skin’ as ‘a product obtained from animal skin which retains its original fibrous structure and is tanned to prevent rotting’. It adds that hair or wool may or may not have been removed, that the material may have been split into layers either before or after tanning, and that any coating applied must not be thicker than 0.15 mm. Portugal follows Italy and France, which are among a number of nations that had previously enacted similar legislation.
The various pieces of legislation mentioned above relate to how certain things should be communicated to consumers. However, there is also an increase in legislation requiring that certain other information must be made available to the consumer.
Product and packaging
Organisations placing goods onto the French market are facing a number of new obligations. These all stem from the French AGEC law (‘Loi relative à la lute contre le gaspillage et a l’économie circulaire’) that is intended to reduce waste and support the transition to a circular economy.
In this legislation, there are two separate labelling requirements to consider for footwear – one for the product itself and another for its packaging (this is also applicable to clothing and household textiles). The labels must be applied to any relevant goods placed onto the French market after 1st February 2023 (or 1st August 2023 for products which were either manufactured or imported into France before 1st February 2023).
The footwear labelling requirements are overseen by an organisation called ‘Re_Fashion’, which represents the clothing, footwear and household textile sectors. The aim is to ensure that consumers are provided with information on how to responsibly dispose of an item at the end of its life, and the labelling must be provided either i) on the footwear itself – for example, in the form or a stitched-in label or printed directly onto the footwear, ii) on its packaging, such as a hang-tag, box end label or other sticker, or iii) on documents which are provided with the product.
There are strict guidelines for the design of the label. For instance, it must show the French ‘Triman’ logo alongside a pictogram of a clothing recycling bin, with options also available to also show pictograms for alternative means of disposal, including charity shops and take-back schemes.
An equivalent scheme is also in place for household packaging, which is managed by an organisation called ‘CITEO’. Packaging must be labelled to advise consumers of how it should be disposed – specifically into which sorting bin it should be placed. Once again, the design of the label is pre-defined and must include the Triman logo, as well as pictograms of the packaging items and the disposal method for the item. In most cases for footwear packaging, this will be into a recycling bin.
It is important to note that the two labels mentioned in the preceding paragraphs cannot simply be combined into a single label. The official documentation published by the schemes clearly states that one label is required for the footwear and a second label is applicable for the packaging.
The labelling requirements are linked to the ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR) discussed in the article ‘Footwear legislation – end of life responsibility’.
Additional French proceedings deferred
The French government intended to introduce further legislation on 1st January 2023. Its aim was to require that additional information about a product be disclosed to consumers in France, relating to the product’s sustainability credentials and its supply chain, in line with the previously-mentioned AGEC law. However, at the time of writing this article, it is believed that the introduction of this legislation has been postponed following discussions with the European Union.
The legislation would have initially affected companies producing or importing items into France to the value of more than EUR 50 million (GBP 43.5 million/USD 54.5 million) or 25,000 units, with the threshold decreasing to EUR 20 million (GBP 17.4 million/USD 21.8 million)/10,000 units from January 2024 and then EUR 10 million (GBP 8.7 million/USD 10.9 million)/10,000 units from January 2025.
Organisations affected by this now-suspended (but possible future) legislation would be required to provide information on the amount of recycled material incorporated in the product, its recyclability and the presence of hazardous substances. Also included would be the geographical traceability of the three main stages of manufacturing (defined for footwear as ‘stitching’, ‘lasting’ and ‘finishing’), and finally the presence of microfibres, where the proportion by weight of synthetic fibres is more than 50 per cent. This information would be made available ‘at the point of sale and thereafter’ which, in reality, would likely mean being delivered to the consumer via a dedicated webpage.
Meanwhile in Italy…
Italian decree 116/2020 relating to environmental labelling was enacted at the start of January 2023. This legislation requires packaging materials to be identified according to the European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC. For example, corrugated cardboard must be labelled as ‘PAP 20’ and non-corrugated cardboard as ‘PAP 21’. In addition, any packaging intended for end consumers is to be clearly labelled in Italian with instructions for its disposal. This would, for example, include shoe boxes.
The Italian National Packaging Consortium has published detailed information on what types of packaging are included or excluded by the legislation, as well as an online tool called ‘e-tichetta’ which companies can use to check the labelling requirements for particular packaging items.
Growing global pressure
The trends are clear – consumers around the world are demanding more information so that they can make informed and sustainable decisions, and legislation is increasingly ensuring that they must be provided with this information. All of this will ultimately drive the development and production of more sustainable products with a reduced impact on the environment. There is not only a financial risk in terms of penalty fees for organisations which do not comply with legislative requirements – such a lack of action will also pose a significant risk to their reputation.
scanrail | iStockphoto.com
How can we help?
SATRA always recommends that organisations verify the legislative requirements of any country in which they are operating or into which they are exporting products. Please email email@example.com for further support and advice on this issue.
This article was originally published on page 10 of the July/August 2023 issue of SATRA Bulletin.