European Clothing Chains Hit by 'Fake' Organic Label Controversy

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Deutsche Welle (Germany)

European Clothing Chains Hit by 'Fake' Organic Label Controversy

Consumer groups in Germany have criticized clothing chains H&M and C&A after media reports said the two firms had allegedly used genetically-modified cotton from India in their eco-friendly range.

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(photo by flickr user dierk schaefer)

Monika Buening of the Federal Consumer Affairs Agency said the two companies needed to take action fast to limit the damage.

"The fashion chains (H&M and C&A) were not vigilant enough,
" the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper quoted her as saying in its
Saturday edition.

Buening demanded the clothing chains must now "disclose their supply
chain" and "inspect their certifiers better, at least by conducting
random checks."

Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament for Germany's
Green Party, called for tighter controls on organic textiles from the
developing world.

"Consumer fraud"

Environmental organization Greenpeace called for a legal investigation into the matter.

The organization's agricultural expert, Martin Hofstetter, told
German radio station MDR that some products which had not been
organically produced, were being sold as such.

"This is a major malpractice. It's consumer fraud, which must be punished," he said.

The problem with organic cotton from India primarily involves the small structures of the farming sector, Hofstetter said.

He pointed out that many small fields in the country were often
clustered together in close proximity to each other, cultivating a
variety of different crops - organic, conventional and GM. That often
resulted in crop contamination from one field to the other, he said.

On Friday, German newspaper Financial Times Deutschland reported
that last year, a large volume of GM cotton produced in India had been
sold as organic cotton.

The newspaper said Indian authorities had discovered the incident in
April 2009. It quoted the head of the Indian agricultural authority,
Apeda, Sanjay Dave, saying they were dealing with fraud on "a gigantic
scale."

Two European certification companies, responsible for ensuring that 
producers stick to eco-friendly standards, had awarded the organic
label.

The newspaper said it remained unclear whether the certifiers, a
Dutch and a French company, had knowingly and falsely labeled the
cotton as "organic."

Setback to clothing firms

A spokeswoman for the Swedish clothing chain H&M told news
agency AFP that the company became aware of the incident last year. She
said it couldn't be ruled out that the tainted cotton had landed in
H&M's organic range.

Clothing retailer C&A, which has head offices in Brussels and
Duesseldorf, has announced it planned to carry out a thorough
investigation.

The controversy could have serious implications for both firms at a
time when companies are trying to profit from jumping on the organic
bandwagon.

In fact, H&M is set to launch its spring "Garden Collection" in
March, which the chain says "is made using organic and recycled
materials."

rb/AFP
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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