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A deeper look into France’s anti-fast fashion bill



Last week in France, a bill that aims to tackle fast fashion passed unanimously in the National Assembly and will now go before the Senate in order to become law. The catalyst for the conversation surrounding the bill emerged from a TikTok video unboxing a Shein package posted by French Politician Antoine Vermorel-Marques in an attempt to highlight the unsustainability of fast fashion production. If the bill passes, the law would essentially place fast fashion in a bracket alongside products like tobacco, which is subject to a “sin tax” intended to be so severe that it limits consumption. Whilst the bill sounds like a step in the right direction in the fight for a more sustainable fashion industry, On paper, the bill shows France to be leading the fight against fast fashion in the name of sustainability. However, in reality, there may be other motives behind the passing of the bill. 


What does the bill set out to do?

Put simply, the proposed anti-fast fashion bill sets out to impede fast fashion companies in two ways. 


Firstly, the proposed bill wants to target fast fashion companies through a “sin tax”. Whilst the bill has yet to go through the French Senate, the proposed “sin tax” would be up to €5 per item of clothing. It is also suggested in the bill that the “sin tax” could rise to €10 per item of clothing by 2030, though the “tax” would be limited up to 50% of the clothing item’s value. 


Secondly, the bill advocates the banning of advertisements run by fast fashion companies. Furthermore, the bill requires fast fashion brands to provide information regarding a product’s reuse, repair, recycling, and environmental impact on the company website and apps. 


Nationalism as a motivating factor?

One sign that there is a nationalist agenda behind the anti-fast fashion bill is the fact that it was unanimously passed. This line of thinking has been displayed by Baptiste Carriere-Pradal, co-founder and director of public-affairs consultancy 2B Policy, who said “What is unprecedented is that, from far right to far left, they all said ‘yay.’” Particularly, as, at the same time, the far-right in France such as Rassemblement National are calling for the renunciation of the European Green Deal. So why is it then that this bill has received universal consensus?


The answer to this question may reveal itself upon closer inspection of the fast fashion brands that are being targeted. The main targets are Sheina and Temu in China, H&M in Sweden, and Zara in Spain. The common denominator is that all of these fast fashion companies are not French owned. Opposition to this line of thought might argue that this common denominator only exists because there are not any major fast fashion companies that are French owned. This point would have some strength if it were not for the fact that the bill promises to reinvest the revenue received from “sin tax” into French fashion companies. This would not be a problem if there was an outline into the French companies that the revenue would go to, however, the lack of focus only seeks to emphasise the fact that the recipients being French owned companies is what matters for the bill to pass. Not only does the bill show that nationalist agendas play a part in its success, it also shows that sustainability may not be a primary driver behind the bill after all. An assessment of the bill can be best summarised by Elizabeth Cline, Professor of fashion policy and consumerism and sustainability at Columbia University, who says, “I wish I could say these anti-fast fashion policies were motivated by an interest in protecting the environment and in shielding young people from aggressive marketing, but they're mostly a reflection of conservative, anti-China, and protectionist posturing.” 


Who pays the price?

The purpose of the “sin tax” is to prevent the culture of consumerism that is promoted by the production style of fast fashion companies. Cécile Désaunay, Director of studies at the consultancy firm Futuribles, states that France’s poorest consumers are not responsible for the growth of fast fashion companies. Instead, she blames the middle-classes who indulge in overconsumption to the point where they buy clothes that they may not ever wear. The “sin tax” does support sustainability in the sense that it prevents the middle-classes from overconsumption. However, it has come at the price of depriving the working class from being able to afford clothes. By only focusing on reinvesting the “sin tax” revenue in French brands, the current political discussion surrounding the bill omits provisions that can be taken to make sure that the working class can still afford to buy clothes without being in conflict with sustainability. 


Where the bill could be more sustainable

There are two amendments that could be made to the bill which would make it more focused on the issue of sustainability within the fashion industry. 


First, the bill could go beyond banning fast fashion companies from advertising and use the spare advertisement space to highlight fashion companies that adopt sustainable methods of production while remaining accessible to everyone. To go even further, some of the revenue from the “sin tax” could go towards promoting smaller, independent, fashion companies that promote sustainable practices. 


Second, the bill could go into more detail regarding the reinvestment of the “sin tax”. By extending the focus from the nationality of the fashion companies, this policy would become more about tackling fast fashion through sustainability than through nationalism and protectionism. One way in which this could be achieved is by identifying which fashion companies are able to provide clothes at accessible prices whilst maintaining sustainable practices. Once those companies have been recognised, the French government could provide subsidies from the “sin tax”, which would enable them to price their clothes in a manner that is even more accessible to everyone.


Conclusion

Whilst it is unfair to conclude that the bill does not make any progress in tackling fast fashion companies, there is a case for the fact that sustainability is not the only factor driving this bill through the French legislative process. Furthermore, if French lawmakers want to take sustainability more seriously, they should consider spending more time on the implementation of the bill, opposed to how the French economy can benefit from the bill.


Sources used:

Sarah Kent, “What Would Happen if Fashion Were Taxed like Cigarettes?”, in BoF, 2024.

Rachel Cernansky, “How a Tiktok Unboxing Video is Promoting a Fast Fashion Bill”, in Vogue Business, 2024.

Jessica Binns, “Does France’s Anti-Fast Fashion Law Still Have Legs?” in Vogue Business. 2024.

Paul Messad, “Far-right Asks French Government to ‘Give Up the Green Deal’”, in Euractiv, 2024.

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