European Union (EU) apparel manufacturers prepare to carry out more checks on clothing safety under a new EU rules proposal to protect consumers from potentially dangerous products.
The proposal’s new product safety rules for the apparel industry, which was approved by the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee on 16 June includes addressing potential flammability, dyes that may cause allergic reactions and dangerous drawstrings.
There will still be further votes, leading to additional amendments at the parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, however it shows tougher consumer rules are coming that will also cover European Economic Area (EEA) members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The rules will not automatically apply in Switzerland however, where Dr Pierfrancesco Fois, executive director of the international Ecological and Toxicological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers (ETAD) is based.
He told Just Style this planned revision of the EU general product safety directive aims to tackle compliance more effectively, “in particular, but not only, as regards online sales” as well as in traditional bricks-and-mortar shops.
Under the current text, all economic operators, such as apparel manufacturers, importers and distributors, will have to comply and if they are not established in the EU, they will have to designate a responsible person in the EU to ensure compliance. There are also strong financial implications and not only at the expense of ensuring products received from suppliers are not dangerous.
Apparel industry’s new product safety rules and penalties
If clothing businesses fail to meet the new rules, the directive insists that EU member state regulators impose penalties that can reach up to 4% of an apparel business’s annual turnover.
The updated requirements consider risks to vulnerable consumers such as the elderly and children. They will improve protection for people buying apparel online, who will have to be informed by marketplaces about recalled products and can claim refunds in such cases.
Lead negotiator for the European Parliament, its vice-president Dita Charanzová (a member of the liberal Renew Europe group), emphasised: “All economic operators and online marketplaces will be required to inform all consumers they can identify about a recall of a product and if ordered to remove something, must do so within one day.”
The Czech MEP said the new rules will ensure products are safe in Europe and give consumers more rights. The clothing industry, including online marketplaces, will be given more responsibilities in a way that protects small businesses – comprising the vast majority of the EU apparel industry.
Apparel industry new product safety rules start date
A European Parliament official told Just Style that once there is a provisional agreement on the text at anticipated negotiations between the EU parliament and council (representing member states), an agreed text will probably be adopted by the two institutions: “We cannot give a precise date, but negotiations will not start before autumn and usually take a few months.”
Despite the strengthening of the legislation, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has criticised the new proposals, such as deleting an obligation for authorised representatives to carry out random sample testing of products – although this plan was not accepted in the text approved by the parliamentary committee.
That said, the BEUC senior communications officer (product safety, sustainable mobility and international affairs) Laurens Rutten welcomed how the reformed law sets safety requirements for products, including textiles, that do not have sector-specific rules.
“It steps in where sector-specific rules would not adequately cover new risks and so functions as an overall safety net,” he told Just Style. Once the review process is complete, the updated rules will cover apparel and fabrics, as well as bed linen, carpets, curtains and tablecloths, he said. Mr Rutten added that the new rules cover all types of clothing, “but also shoes and accessories such as jewellery, belts, handbags, hats, gloves and scarves.”
Under the current reformed text, EU consumers will receive new rights including the ability to claim a refund of the initial purchase price if an item of clothing is recalled, Mr Rutten emphasised: “Market surveillance authorities will also get more powers, to do online ‘mystery’ shopping for example,” when people pose as a customer and report on the quality of service received and how well a store or chain of stores is being run.
Mr Rutten added that BEUC tests had indicated safety problems with clothes. In 2019, six BEUC member organisations and national consumer groups tested 250 products bought from well-known online marketplaces in 2019. “We also bought clothing for children,” Mr Rutten said. “[Almost all] – 14 out of 16 clothing pieces – such as hoodies – fell short of EU safety prescriptions because their cords were too long or present in places where they were not allowed to be. This increased the risk of accidents such as suffocation.”
Although the European apparel and textile confederation Euratex is yet to comment on the general product safety review, it is a member of the Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope). Its response to the proposal, highlighted that many non-compliant products, including clothing enter the EU from non-EU countries, creating an uneven playing field for European businesses.
A 2021 European Parliament briefing note says that business organisations “were more likely to argue that while a significant revision of the GPSD is necessary, the solution is better enforcement.” Following the March (2022) release of the European Commission’s sustainable textile strategy, Euratex (which does not cover this consumer law reform, also called for better enforcement, saying the key to safety is to “solve the market surveillance paradox in which laws are made but not checked,” in an EU market where 28 billion products circulate each year.
By Just Style
Mr Rutten called for more transparency, regretting that in the EU’s database on dangerous non-food products, the ‘Safety Gate’ rapid alert system, it is difficult to say how many products are linked to one notification, especially as “many products are nowadays imported from outside the EU and online marketplaces are not sufficiently controlled”.