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This article aims to explain fundamental legal aspects of the quality of clothes (and other textiles) and the related labelling requirements. In addition to being subject to very stringent labelling rules, textiles also fall within product safety regulations. The law is complex and scattered among various pieces of legislation while infringements can hurt.
In December 2017 the Polish consumer protection and competition authority UOKiK published a report wrapping up a series of inspections its retail watchdog department Inspekcja Handlowa carried out in 2016 in relation to textiles. According to the authorities, the quality of clothes sold in Poland has deteriorated comparing to results of the 2015 inspections. A total of 361 businesses (manufacturers, importers and distributors) were audited.
The authorities focused on children’s and adults’ clothes as well as on tablecloths. The products were checked for compliance with:
- labelling and marking requirements, that is whether only the acceptable textile fibre names were used and the labels disclosed fibre composition;
- quality requirements:
- actual fibre composition as declared by manufacturer or importer;
- actual size as declared;
- use performance standards, such as standards relating to laundry shrinkage.
The inspections revealed weaknesses in all those areas. Unfortunately, there was a large number of cases where the products’ actual fibre composition did not conform to label claims. UOKiK gave the example of a men’s shirt supposedly consisting of 65% cotton and 35% polyester, which after examination turned out to have … nearly reversed proportions of those materials. Another example was a blouse which had a mere 53% of cotton, instead of the declared 100%. Manufacturers often made the mistake of not disclosing any fibre composition at all or of using fibre names that are not legally acceptable (as you will see below, there is a close-ended list of such names that can be used). Although that particular series of inspections was not concerned with product safety, we have seen in practice that the authorities often check clothes for potential dangers to consumers, too.
In those circumstances, it appears apt to ask the question: what is it that clothes must be in compliance with? Where to look for clothes labelling guidance? Are there any requirements applicable to the quality of ordinary clothes?
First of all, textiles are subject to the Polish General Product Safety Act (and the EU directive by the same name), where the major requirement is that the product must be … safe, and in particular in conformity with safety requirements arising from the applicable standards (harmonized standards and Polish Standards). Safety assessment must be conducted by manufacturers or importers before their products are placed on the market. Although the General Product Safety Act seems quite enigmatic, it is not to be disregarded. The dangerous products register kept by UOKiK currently features a few dozen articles of clothing that have been challenged for failure to meet safety requirements. RAPEX, the European rapid alert system for dangerous products, contains not dozens but several thousand entries for clothing. Clothes turn out to be the type of goods that are most often reported to these registers. Very frequent are safety infringements involving potentially injurious drawstrings and various chemical risks, e.g. the presences of lead in T-shirt prints or the excessive contents of aromatic amine, chromium or other substances considered to present risks). Such registers contain specific product descriptions and mention the manufacturers by name, so its advisable to take precautions to ensure your product complies with safety regulations.
Where are such regulations to be found? Well, we advise first reaching out to Regulation (EU) No. 1907/2006 (called “REACH”), and especially to its Annex XVII, which mentions the chemical substances and mixtures that are prohibited in certain products or whose contents may not exceed strictly specified limits. REACH infringements are the most frequent reason why products are questioned on grounds of chemical risk. As regards product safety, most of the requirements are found in various standards. As can be seen in the case practice of Polish market surveillance authorities in relation to clothes, the standard they frequently refer to is Polish Standard PN-EN 14682 “Bezpieczeństwo odzieży dziecięcej — Sznury i sznurki ściągające w odzieży dziecięcej — Specyfikacja”, which implements harmonized standard EN 14682 Safety of Children’s Clothing – Cords and Drawstrings on Children’s Clothing.
A textile held to be dangerous will often have to be withdrawn from the market. However, certain infringing conduct of the manufacturer (e.g. failure to report product dangers that have been detected) may expose it to an administrative fine of up to PLN 100,000.00
Specific legal rules on textiles are present also in Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2011 on textile fibre names and related labelling and marking of the fibre composition of textile products (“Regulation“), which has been in force since 2013, and with direct effect at that (i.e. without the need for being transposed into national law). The Regulation provides details on how to describe fibre composition of textile products and how to put that information on them.
The Regulation was a major point of reference for Inspekcja Handlowa as it was carrying out its inspections described above, which is a reason, alongside the broad range of regulatory detail, why it’s worthwhile getting to know the Regulation better as a primary source of compliance reference for the clothes industry.
It will be noted first of all that the Regulation basically does not establish any quality requirements for textile products, other than to ensure that quality must be as declared by the manufacturer or importer. The major goal of the Regulation is to lay down rules on how to describe fibre composition of textile products. Accordingly, to be lawfully made available on the market, a textile product must carry information about its fibre composition, such information to be attached by marking (information indicated directly on the product, e.g. by way of sewing or printing) or by labelling (using a separate label or documents attached to the product). The labelling and marking of textile products must be durable, easily legible, visible, and, in the case of a label, securely attached, and must be accessible to the consumer before they make their purchase, including on-line purchase. The fibre composition information must be accurate.
Importantly, fibre composition may be described using only those textile fibre names which are set out in the annex to the Regulation. This is intended to ensure uniform terminology across the EU. If a manufacturer finds the annex does not list the name of a fibre in which it is interested, it may apply for the new name to be included in the list.
The Regulation also mentions numerous exceptions to the above rules (e.g. when you can use inclusive labelling) as well as describing in detail the research methods to be used when finding the fibre composition of different product groups.
Labelling or marking infringements do not have to end up with market withdrawal as long as the manufacturer (importer) cures the infringement in due time.
Check what we refer to:
- The General Product Safety Act of 12 December 2003 (Journal of Laws 2016, item 2047).
- Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 December 2001 on general product safety (OJ L 11, 2002).
- Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2011 on textile fibre names and related labelling and marking of the fibre composition of textile products and repealing Council Directive 73/44/EEC and Directives 96/73/EC and 2008/121/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 272, 2011).
- Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC (OJ L 396, 2006).
About the author
Piotr Popielarski – legal counsel at WKB Wierciński, Kwieciński, Baehr. He deals, among others, with legal aspects of product life cycle, including quality requirements and product labeling, as well as product marketing issues, waste management and relations with market surveillance authorities.