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France's 5 euro fast fashion tax - A game changer for sustainable fashion?

By Guest Contributor


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Fashion |Opinion

Een Shein pop-up. Credits: Shein

In a pioneering move to counteract the detrimental effects of fast fashion, France has introduced a proposed levy of 5 euro on each fast fashion item sold. Spearheaded by French MP Antoine Vermorel Marques and backed by the Horizons Group, this tax proposal is a decisive statement against the environmental and social havoc wreaked by fast fashion behemoths like SHEIN and Temu. It represents a crucial effort to pivot from reliance on overseas manufacturing to bolstering local production. Yet, the effectiveness of this surcharge in fundamentally transforming the fast fashion landscape remains under scrutiny.

About the author:

Niki de Schryver is the founder and CEO of Cosh! Cosh! is an advocate for sustainable fashion practices, thriving local economies and a diverse, small-scale retail landscape.

Cosh! acknowledges the tax's role in highlighting the hidden costs associated with fast fashion. Investigations into Shein's products, such as those by Greenpeace Germany, have revealed alarming chemical safety violations, underscoring the urgent need for transparency and accountability. While the tax is a step in the right direction, Cosh! questions if it goes far enough to mitigate fast fashion's extensive environmental and social impact. The organisation underscores the necessity for more robust legislation to enforce producer responsibility and sustainable supply chains.

In light of this, Cosh!, alongside Fair Trade Belgium and key Belgian stakeholders, has endorsed a statement advocating for the swift enactment of the Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This directive is essential for establishing a level playing field critical to achieving sustainable supply chains. Essentially, it mandates that companies take responsibility for their environmental footprint and the human rights impacts within their supply chains.

Our concern is that this tax might inadvertently allow companies such as Shein to perceive the 5 euro tax as absolution for their environmental footprint, potentially entrenching the status quo. To counter this, Cosh! emphasises that penalties should target the production rather than the consumption of substandard goods, thereby promoting responsible brands and supporting local craftsmanship, further reinforcing the ethos of laws like France's AGEC Law, which champions waste reduction and a circular economy.

The legislation's focus on online retailers lacking a physical presence in France is intended to shield local businesses from the overwhelming competition of fast fashion giants. However, Cosh! calls for a comprehensive strategy encompassing the full spectrum of fast fashion's impact beyond just the digital marketplace.

There's a nuanced argument to be made about Shein's dominance potentially aiding the sustainability cause by out-competing other fast fashion entities such as Zara or H&M and diminishing the physical footprint of fast fashion in the brick-and-mortar retail scene. This could offer a reprieve to traditional retailers. The unfolding scenario could compel a significant transformation towards degrowth among European brands and retailers, challenging them to reconsider their production and consumption patterns. Nevertheless, this could shift the challenge more into the digital domain, with ambiguous implications for local employment and environmental standards.

Cosh! weighs in on France's 5 euro fast fashion tax

Cosh! proposes a forward-thinking solution: restricting imports from companies that flout EU sustainability and employment standards. This could compel a reevaluation of production and distribution models, nudging companies towards more localised operations. Such measures could invigorate local economies, elevate production standards, and enhance supply chain transparency.

This tax is an imperative dialogue opener about the legislative role in sculpting a sustainable fashion industry. The impending challenges for small, ethical brands in navigating new sustainability compliance and communication are significant. Cosh! calls for a systemic, holistic approach to reform, asserting that the 5 euro tax, while a commendable start, is but the first step on a long journey towards dismantling the fast fashion model.

As we contemplate the broader implications of this tax, it's clear that a concerted effort from consumers, brands, and policymakers is essential to weave sustainability into the fabric of fashion decision-making. Cosh! champions the idea that adopting similar fiscal measures in other European countries could significantly propel the fashion industry towards sustainability, aligning with the EU’s Green Deal objectives. This initiative by France underscores its commitment to future-proofing its significant fashion sector and signals a path that, if followed collectively, could lead to profound, systemic change.

Read more about the response to the fast fashion tax here.

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive
Fast fashion