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Could a law demolish fast fashion?

19 April 2024 On the Research side
Published by Patrick BOUILLET
Viewed 34 times

Sihem Dekhili (ESSCA) and Mohamed Akli Achabou (IPAG) are members of ESSCA's MECE Institute - Ethical Fashion and Ecological Consumption.

The recent adoption of a law to regulate what has come to be known as fast fashion is part of a long history of relations between fashion, commerce and legislation.

The international institutional framework has played an essential role in this sector. While the World Trade Organization (WTO) now plays an important role in promoting sustainability, it has also contributed significantly to the creation of a globalized fashion system.

Indeed, the abolition of the Multi-Fiber Agreement (MFA) by this organization in 2005 opened the door for fashion brands to the many opportunities offered by Asian markets and economies: cheap labor and raw materials, very low or even non-existent environmental, social and health standards... giving rise to fast fashion.

Faced with the consequences of this globalization of textile production, several governments are attempting to react by adopting legislation to better regulate industry practices. On March 14, for example, the French National Assembly adopted a bill to introduce a bonus-malus system to discourage the unreasonable consumption of fast-fashion products. Its effectiveness is far from assured, however, and requires strong consumer support.

A quick detour into economic theory sheds light on the issues at stake. 24 years ago, Douglass North, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, emphasized the key role of institutions. According to him, the societies that get richer are those that develop institutions to ensure that the market functions at its best. But, by promoting improved living standards and lifestyles, this enrichment is not without environmental and social consequences.

The Stiglitz Commission (another Nobel Prize winner!) concluded in 2008 that growth in consumer goods and GDP were no longer sufficient to measure well-being over time, particularly in its economic, environmental and social dimensions.

Institutions such as ADEME in France were created to address these new concerns.

This recognition of environmental and social issues was first manifested at international level. The founding text of the Declaration of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, held in June 1972 at the initiative of the United Nations General Assembly, was strongly inspired by the concept of ecodevelopment.

For its part, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is very committed to achieving the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Demystifying ephemeral fashion

In recent years, in response to the harmful environmental and social consequences of this industry, a number of national and international institutional initiatives have been launched. In the United States, for example, a bill, the " Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act " or " Fashion Act ", was passed in 2022.

Among other things, it requires fashion brands with sales of over $100 million and operating in New York to map at least 50% of their supply chain, to present the climate impact of their activities and to disclose the median wages of workers. While the project has been heralded as historic, it has also been the subject of criticism.

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