The Department of Business, Innovation & Skills has launched a consultation on the labelling of leather products

Background
This follows evidence of misleading and false indications in relation to leather products (other than footwear) leading the European Commission to carry out work to identify any legislative gaps and assess the need for a harmonised system of labelling at EU-level.

Leather A recently commissioned independent study on the feasibility of a leather labelling system at European level identified the key issues relating to the labelling of leather products and what actions might be feasible to combat them, such as false and misleading claims with regards to origin, authenticity and animal species. Through interviews with stakeholders including representatives from industry, public authorities and consumer organisations in 13 Member States, the study found that the information consumers valued most when buying leather products was in relation to authenticity.

The Commission therefore will focus their ongoing work on the legislative options in relation to authenticity, assessing the impacts and cost benefits of each. The Commission Impact Assessment will look at both voluntary and mandatory legislative measures including the option of a "real leather" label on all leather products sold in the EU. This will not include footwear which is covered by a separate labelling Directive (94/11/EC). They will also look at the possible extension or enhanced application of the existing regulatory framework such as the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) which contains provisions that prohibit the use of misleading and false statements on most consumer products.

Current Government Position
The Department of Business, Innovation & Skills states that the UK Government does not currently support a harmonised mandatory labelling regime specifically covering the labelling of leather goods (other than footwear). BIS states that it believes that the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC), a maximum harmonisation Directive which is implemented in the UK by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs), sufficiently covers the identified issues of mislabelling, misleading labelling and misleading descriptions. The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive is a Europe-wide piece of legislation that, although it does not set the criteria for how products should be labelled, does outlaw false or misleading statements, including statements about the origin, authenticity or composition of a given product. The Directive also covers the omission of material information where goods are offered direct for sale to consumers and where the omission would be likely to affect the transactional decision of the average consumer. “Material information” includes the main characteristics of the product.

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive is principles based and has a very broad application; applying to any commercial practice which businesses undertake in the course of promoting, marketing and selling products and services to consumers. It is the Government's view that this Directive and its implementing Regulations, which carry criminal offences and penalties, provide for sufficient protection for consumers against such practices.

BIS is yet to be convinced that an EU-wide, harmonised labelling regime specific to leather products would successfully combat the identified issues of misleading and false claims as to the authenticity of such products. BIS also believes that further regulation of the industry could be both burdensome on business and expensive for public authorities to enforce.

The Government does however accept that there is a lack of properly defined descriptions of what constitutes a leather product and when a product described as leather is not an authentic leather product. BIS believe however that this could be helped through the development of comprehensive guidelines. These would include setting out the definitions of what constitutes leather and a leather product and the globally recognized real leather symbols contained in, for example, the Footwear Labelling Directive (94/11/EC).

Next steps
The European Commission plan to publish a final Impact Assessment at either the end of 2013 or early 2014. Should the findings of their Impact Assessment study and the evidence and views gathered from Member States and industry stakeholders point towards the need for some kind of regulatory measure, the Impact Assessment may be accompanied by a legislative proposal.

Consultation
Before finalising the UK position, the Government would like to invite stakeholders to contribute to an informal consultation.
In order to support a harmonised legislative proposal the Government requires strong evidence that this would be supported by industry (including small businesses) and successfully combat the activity of any rogue traders or individuals whose intention it is to mislead or falsely represent inauthentic leather products as authentic.

BIS would therefore welcome any comments and has suggested the questions in this document to help inform responses.  If you wish to contribute to this consultation which ends by close of play Friday 14 June please send you7r response initially to Mike Dimond who will pass tem over to Department of Business, Innovation & Skills.