Made in labels on EU textile and clothing imports continue to be debated

'Made in' labels on EU textile and clothing imports continue to be debated

Long-debated proposals to introduce compulsory 'Made in' labels for all textile, clothing and footwear products imported into the European Union (EU) have hit a stumbling block after members of the European Parliament and European Council of Ministers this week failed to agree on the plans.

Instead, the Council has asked the European Commission (EC) to present a study by 30 September 2013 on the feasibility of an origin labelling scheme to give consumers "accurate information on the country of origin and additional information ensuring full traceability of textile products."

It also wants the Commission to look into the feasibility of harmonising care labelling requirements, an EU-wide uniform size labelling system for clothes, and the indication of allergenic substances.

And it believes there is also a need to assess how new technologies, such as micro-chips or radio-frequency identification (RFID), could in future be used instead of traditional labels to convey information to consumers.

The proposed law was originally mooted six years ago to protect EU manufacturers from cheaper third country imports and allow consumers to make informed choices. The 'made in' labels were also seen as having a role to play in protecting customers and manufacturers from counterfeiting and unfair competition.

The planned regulation would have required the words 'Made in,' together with the country of origin, written in the local language of sales (or in English) on all goods and packaging, with penalties for those that failed to comply.

But not all member states have been enthusiastic about it. The Commission originally submitted a draft regulation in 2005 for mandatory origin labels, but the procedure was put on hold, having been blocked by some governments.

Countries that primarily import and distribute foreign clothing and textile products have, in the past, been vocal about wanting optional labelling to remain in place to avoid losses in sales and profits for retailers.

But those with large manufacturing bases, such as Italy and Spain, have long advocated mandatory labelling to help cut down on growing low-cost imports from third countries.

The actual use of declarations of origin is also seen as questionable. For example, a shoe may be labelled as 'Made in Italy' even if its sole is produced in Albania and its upper parts are made in India, so long as the components are combined mechanically in Italy. This is arguably even more a deceptive to consumers.

Compulsory origin labelling entails additional costs to producers and retailers too. And controls to prevent misuse and false labelling would cause additional costs and place a higher administrative burden on firms.

Separately, however, the European Parliament this week agreed to combine three EU labelling laws into one unified piece of legislation make it easier for companies to launch new fibres.

And it has backed a regulation that means animal inputs such as leather and fur must now be mentioned on labels for textile products sold in the EU.