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Committee finds retailers “complacent” over fake fur scandal

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

Jul 23, 2018

Fashion |UPDATE

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which launched an inquiry into the reports that real fur was being sold as fake fur by major high street and online retailers, has found that retailers, local authorities and Trading Standards have been “poor at enforcing regulations” around the sale of real fur.

The committee, which heard evidence from retailers and the industry, stated that retailers have a responsibility to ensure that they are selling items as described – failing to do so is illegal. Retailers named in the report, including House of Fraser and Missguided they said did not do enough to counter the accidental selling of real fur.

Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said in a statement: “Retailers of all sizes are complacent about the issue of fake faux fur. It is illegal to give misleading information and Trading Standards have been poor at identifying and acting against those who are doing so. The Government must ensure that Local Authorities are properly resourced, and local authorities should ensure that Trading Standards are properly trained.”

Missguided and Boohoo both gave evidence to the committee and said they had since changed their checking processes and increased sample testing, while House of Fraser said it had worked closely with Humane Society International to improve awareness of the issue among staff as well as stating that improved labelling would improve transparency in the fur industry.

As well as retailers being described as “complacent”, the committee also said that Trading Standards officers have been poor at enforcing the law against such retailers and added that The Government must ensure that Local Authorities are properly resourced to deliver these services, and local authorities must take more responsibility for doing so.

It added that Local Authorities should provide training to Trading Standards officers on this issue and to conduct proactive investigations into the mis-sale of real fur as fake fur.

Fur inquiry recommends improved labelling to ensure consumer confidence

At the centre of the findings was to ensure that consumers were confidence in the products they are purchasing, with consumers having a right to know what they are buying, with the committee highlighting that the current EU labelling regime “lacks clarity” and is confusing for retailers and consumers alike.

For instance, the report notes that the “animal origin” label is unclear, and can refer to a number of animal products in a garment, it does not specifically identify when a product contains real animal fur. It added that the labelling of clothes has to be “consistent, transparent and customer-friendly”.

The committee stated that Brexit provides an opportunity for the UK to improve its system of labelling, while adding that the Government's ability to amend the labelling regime after Brexit will depend on the nature of the future EU-UK trading relationship. However, it did recommend that a new mandatory labelling regime that identifies fur and other animal products accurately should be introduced post-Brexit. The label should show the species of fur, the country of origin and method of production.

“Brexit provides an opportunity to step up our game when it comes to labelling,” added Parish. “The labelling of clothes must be consistent, transparent and customer-friendly, but current EU requirements are not good enough to allow consumers to understand the origin and contents of their clothing. Finally, the Government should consider launching a consultation to ban the sale of real fur outright.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee calls for public consultation on whether to ban fur

The committee also recommended that the Government holds a public consultation to consider whether to ban fur, stating in the report that the breeding and sale of fur is a “very emotive subject” and as well as presenting the moral arguments against fur farming, animal welfare campaigners highlight the conditions in which animals are reared, and their lack of natural behaviour.

It notes that the fur industry, has established assurance schemes to ensure that animals are bred and raised to industry standards to counter these concerns, although it adds “that there are concerns as to whether these standards go far enough”.

The report states that Government will have to balance the needs of animal welfare against consumer choice, when it looks into whether to ban the sale and import of fur post-Brexit.

In response to the committee’s report, animal rights charity Humane Society International UK, which leads the #FurFreeBritain campaign, said that it had presented detailed evidence of the inherent cruelty of fur farming and trapping, as well as the ‘moral inconsistency’ between the UK’s ban on fur farming and the importation of fur, described by the charity as ‘outsourcing cruelty’.

“The UK Government has the opportunity to blaze a trail as the first country to ban the sale of all animal fur.”

Humane Society International UK executive director Claire Bass said in a statement: “The UK was the first country in the world to ban fur farming, after the British public, politicians and veterinary experts concluded that it is an inhumane and completely unnecessary industry. So it is total double standard for us to still be importing and selling fur from animals still suffering the same conditions we banned here.

“The UK Government has the opportunity to blaze a trail as the first country to ban the sale of all animal fur, so we are delighted that EFRA Committee members are pressing government to launch a public consultation to help inform and build that case.”

Bass added: “Our FurFreeBritain campaign already has the support of the British public, veterinary experts, as well as an ever-growing list of retailers and designers who see that the future of fashion is fur-free. With innovation in textiles offering high quality humane alternatives to real fur, the fur trade’s days are clearly numbered, but it can’t end quickly enough for the hundreds of millions of animals trapped and tormented in tiny cages. A UK ban would be a major nail in the coffin of this morally bankrupt industry.”

The animal rights charity also calls on the Government to introduce a new mandatory fur and animal product labelling regime to enable consumers to make informed buying choices, in support of the committee’s recommendations.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held the inquiry after numerous high-profile cases of fur being sold as fake fur by major high-street and online retailers including TK Maxx, Boohoo, Amazon, NotOnTheHightStreet, Groupon, Etsy, Tesco, FatFace, Boots, Kurt Geiger, and Romwe. Many of these retailers had no-fur policies, however, the ‘fake faux fur’ was made from a variety of animal including rabbit, fox and chinchilla.

The Committee took evidence from representatives from Amazon, NotOnTheHightStreet, Camden Market, The Humane Society, Trading Standards, Fur Europe, the British Fur Trade Association, International Fur Federation, and representatives from Defra.

Images: courtesy of Humane Society International UK