CSR strengths and progress margins of French fashion brands according to Paris Good Fashion and Climate Chance #709


How far have French fashion brands come in meeting the challenges of social and environmental transformation? This is the question that the associations Paris Good Fashion and Climate Chance have tried to answer in a study unveiled on 3 April at the French Fashion Institute in Paris.

Responsible, sustainable, recyclable, circular… the adjectives go on like so many injunctions to transform the economic models of fashion companies. An imperative for change, sometimes drowned in announcements and green communications, that the French fashion and luxury industry seems to have taken into account.

Isabelle Lefort, co-founder of Paris Good Fashion, the association that brings together no less than 110 companies in the fashion and luxury sector, concedes that with some 600 labels at European level and armies of consultants, “CSR is a bit of a wild west. It’s an area in the midst of a revolution where everything has to be reinvented. There will be deaths but also successes.

The study is based on data comparisons and interviews with managers of 24 major French fashion and distribution groups such as Etam, LVMH, Kering, Chanel, Galeries Lafayette, Monoprix, but also Decathlon, Balzac, Kiabi or the Eram group… In total, 45 brands and 8 distributors, with annual sales of over 70 billion euros, explained their progress on social and environmental responsibility to the authors of the study.

By comparing the actions undertaken and the strategies on these subjects of the major French groups, the study aims to provide a broader vision of the state of progress of the sector on this subject. This work has enabled Paris Good Fashion, chaired by Sylvie Bénard, and Climate Chance, co-founded by Senator Ronan Dantec, to identify the themes addressed by the companies and the areas for improvement, but also to note that the quantified analysis was not easy, with the scope and considerations changing according to the organisations. And that it is in fact almost impossible at present to assess the impact of fashion in terms of greenhouse gases.

“One of our proposals is to get closer to scientific research so that we can use the most accurate data. We have no time to lose, the effects of global warming are visible all over the planet, we are alerted to the water cycle and biodiversity continues to collapse,” says Sylvie Bénard, also former CSR Director of the LVMH group. Faced with this, more and more regulations are being put in place. It is our duty to act in the right place, where the impacts are greatest, to speed up certain projects and imagine others collectively, which is the whole purpose of this day and of the report.

For the institutions, politicians, economists and entrepreneurs who spoke during the day, the fashion industry’s involvement in new solutions and actions are necessary to protect the planet and people, but also to enable French fashion and luxury brands to prepare a viable future. Indeed, while in France the Agec law and others are already beginning to modify the organisations of companies and their obligations, no less than 16 texts concerning the sector are being prepared at European level. An offensive on the framing of the sector’s practices which involves a number of points linked to environmental and social responsibility. Faced with an absolute absence of rules from a player like Shein, if you still want to have European branded products, there is a pressing need for these standards that will protect your brands,” said Raphaël Glucksman, MEP. But this will obviously lead to profound changes in organisations and production lines.

It is not yet clear whether products that may be linked to war zones and slavery will be refused entry into Europe. But for the politician, the strength of the European consumer market represents a key asset for Europeans. Thus, for brands, in-depth work on more responsible models and the securing of production partners and processes seem to be essential points.

The good news from this study is that French companies are among the most aware of environmental and social issues. “One of the particularities of the sector in France is that we have four very large groups with LVMH, Kering, Richemont and Chanel on the one hand and small and medium-sized companies on the other. Despite this, we have a very strong family representation. This is an advantage because they are not pension funds. And when a decision has to be made, it is done very quickly,” says Isabelle Lefort.

Transparency, credibility and performance.

So what are the priorities of French groups? Today, the priority remains to reduce their climate impact. Of the 24 companies consulted, 15 have carried out a carbon assessment, 18 have set reduction targets for scopes 1, 2 and 3 (direct emissions 1 and 2, or emissions from the value chain for scope 3) and 16 have adopted a specific greenhouse gas reduction strategy.

What interests us is the credibility of the strategies put in place,” explains Antoine Gillod, Director of the Climate Chance Observatory. There is a question of the credibility of the transition strategy and the performance of the actions. Out of the 24 companies, 6 have short-term transition plans for 2030. On the other hand, the most complicated thing is to have a long-term vision. Many companies have taken action on scope 1 and 2, but few have tackled work on scope 3. Yet this is where more than 80% of the carbon footprint is located.

Progress on energy savings in offices and shops is therefore important, but it is the transformation of their entire production chain that organisations must tackle. This is especially true given that the volume of clothing consumption has exploded in half a century.

To improve these aspects, the second major focus of companies is the transition to a circular economy. To this end, 16 of the 24 companies say they have developed eco-design of products, 17 say they are committed to using natural organic fibres and as many use recycled fibres. In the field of recycling, Monday’s event was an opportunity to recall the new contributions allocated to ReFashion, the eco-organisation of the Clothing, Linen and Footwear sector, and to underline that this is a French exception which could, if all the players invest, constitute a major competitive advantage in the creation of a textile recycling sector and the control of materials that could be created from these old garments collected. Frank Gana, founder of (Re)set, said he had identified several international players in collaboration with Paris Good Fashion who could set up production units in France.

However, the work of Climate Chance and Paris Good Fashion points to large areas of progress to be cleared. For example, on the issues of water and biodiversity, actions are still limited. Although 15 companies have made commitments to reduce their water consumption, few have made commitments regarding the discharge of synthetic microfibres into the water as a result of the production and processing of synthetic textiles. On the biodiversity front, eight of the 24 companies claim to have identified the most impactful activities and put in place measures to reduce them. However, the study stresses that “the first step in addressing the impact of the textile industry on biodiversity is to examine the complex and multidimensional effects of each stage of its value chain on different ecosystems,
from oceans and rivers to forests and soils.

The use of water in the production of cotton or the making of a pair of jeans, but also the use of 1.5 kg of oil to obtain 1 kg of synthetic fibre, necessarily raises questions. The Swedish research duo Sarah Cornell and Celinda Pam have pointed out that all the problems of the use of arable land, water, global warming, the use of phosphorus, the loss of biodiversity and the presence of chemicals in our environment are linked. And invited to work on all these points. A whole that necessarily has impacts on humans. All the actors who participated in the study claim to respect European and French law. However, pressure is mounting for responsibility to be extended to their entire value chain. According to several speakers, French players will have to mobilise investment capacity to invest in their producer partners and will no longer be able to be mere order givers.

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