LONDON — As the fur debate continues to unravel, the U.K. government is looking to reassess its fur-trading policies and review its labeling regulations post-Brexit.
The issue was largely sparked by an investigation made in December by outlets such as the BBC and Sky, which revealed that a number of high-street retailers were selling real fur products that were labeled as faux. On Wednesday morning, representatives of major marketplaces such as Amazon and Not on the High Street were called to Parliament to provide evidence on the topic, alongside executives from trade organizations such as the British Fur Trade, Fur Europe and the International Fur Federation.
Kate Burns, general counsel at Not on the High Street, a marketplace that offers online exposure to small U.K. businesses, recognized that the company’s monitoring policies have proved inadequate and said the firm is taking more drastic steps to remedy the issue.
“We are removing all faux-fur products from the site and it won’t go back up until we can guarantee its provenance. Also, partners who breached our policy for the second time have had all their product suspended from the site, which is a serious sanction because this is their livelihood,” said Burns, pointing to the company’s no-fur policy and continued efforts to educate the sellers to perform thorough checks and have better control of their product. “These are small British business owners working out of their kitchens with limited resources, we are doing everything we can to help them.”
According to Burns, the labeling issue is mainly due to these small businesses relying on cheap imports or being given false information by their suppliers.
Amazon’s director of public policy in the U.K. and Ireland, Lesley Smith, also highlighted a number of process failures when it comes to supply-chain control and stressed that the legal responsibility lies on the seller and not on the marketplace, fulfilling an online order.
“It’s a process failure because someone further down the line might have sourced a fabric from somewhere they weren’t supposed to. At some point, a factory might replace a faux-fur bobble on a hat with a real one, because the faux alternative has run out. It’s genuinely hard to track,” said Smith.
She said Amazon is working to improve the situation by interviewing sellers to ensure they understand the company’s policy on fur and are trained to test products to identify if they contain real fur. “We are providing education and as much information as possible to help [sellers] fulfill their responsibility, but we are not legally liable. We are much more like a Westfield or a Brent Cross than a direct seller,” she said.
Amazon, which counts fashion as a “relatively small” category for its business, has implemented a no-fur policy as of 2014 and has banned up to 300,000 products from its site since.
Members of the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who chaired the hearing, challenged Smith and Burns by pointing to a failure on their companies’ behalf to report sellers to the U.K.’s Trading Standards organization. They required to see the implementation of new policies in writing, which will determine when sellers will be reported to Trading Standards if they breach a company’s fur policy in the future.
Suggestions on how to improve the labeling system were also made, such as implementing a certification system for fur products or demanding that all fibers should be identified on a label.
“European labeling regulations fall short — angora falls under wool, for example, even though it contains fur,” added Smith.
Members of the British and International fur organizations present at the hearing also stressed the importance of a clearer labeling system in the U.K.
“We want to see a label that clearly states the presence of real or synthetic fur. It can start to be recognized as best practice from now, we don’t have to wait for Brexit,” said Mike Moser, chief executive officer of the British Fur Trade. “If a product contains fur, no matter how much or how little, it should be noted. There’s no gray area. It’s just like food products, which clearly state that they contain nuts, even if it’s just a possibility of containing a trace of nuts.”
Moser also pointed to a wider issue of suppliers purposefully adding small amounts of real fur in cheap products to make them look more luxurious. “If fur is accidentally or misleadingly put there, it’s a supply management issue. I’d like to see those products off the market because they are damaging to our industry. If there’s any doubt, it shouldn’t be on the market,” he added, highlighting the need for retailers to have responsibility to gather the right information about their products. “The issue is ignorance of product, the majority aren’t aware of what they are selling — but it’s not an excuse.”
Additionally, Moser suggested that the type of fur should be clearly stated on labels to add “another layer of information” for consumers, who might be concerned about the use of fur from endangered species. He added that highlighting the fur’s country of origin on a label wouldn’t be helpful, as consumers are not aware of the differences in welfare standards between countries. Instead, to assure them of the presence of high welfare standards in European farms, Europe Fur is working toward implementing Welfur, a certification program.