London - No one likes to be fooled, especially when you purchase something you think is fake but it turns out to be real. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened, as an investigation from the Humane International Society UK (HSI UK) and Sky News uncovered mass-farmed foreign fur being mislabelled and sold to consumers as faux by leading UK retailers. Now MPs have begun an inquiry into the mislabelling of real animal fur as fake fur, questioning leading UK retailers Missguided, Boohoo and House of Fraser.
The inquiry was launched by the environment, food and rural affairs committee into the UK fur trade on March 7, following the joint-investigation from Sky News and HSI UK last April. Several products such as bobble hats, shoes, key-chains and fur trims, labeled as faux from retailers like Boohoo Missguided, House of Fraser and Boots were tested by fibers experts and found to contain real fur from rabbit, mink, fox, raccoon dog, and even cat.
"Reports in recent weeks that real fur is being sold as fake fur concerns us greatly"
"Fur farming has been banned in the UK for 18 years, and the sale of legal fur sourced from outside the UK should be tightly regulated. Reports in recent weeks that real fur is being sold as fake fur concerns us greatly, and so we have chosen to formally inquire into the matter," said Neil Parish MP, chairman of the environment, food, and rural affairs committee prior to the inquiry. "Retailers have a duty of care to their customers who have the right to know what they are buying. Our inquiry will determine where responsibility lies for the increase in illegal fur sales, and identify the steps that need to be taken to stop it in its tracks."
During the inquiry, select representatives from Boohoo, Missguided, and House of Fraser were questioned and outlined the measures they have taken since the investigation to stop the mislabelling of their products and the contamination of their supply chains. All the retailers questioned have a strict no-fur policy and stressed that they would never knowingly mislead consumers."We were very disappointed to find that three of our products had been found to contain real animal fur and our policies had been breached," said Boohoo merchandising director Paul Horsfield during the inquiry.
The online fashion retailer discontinued trading with the Chinese supplier of real fur product within a week of the discovery, as well as with the factory which supplied them with the products which contained real fur. "For me, that is quite severe in terms of the action that we have taken," Horsfield added that Boohoo had reappraised its conduct policies with its purchasing team to make sure suppliers, procedures and test certificates where thoroughly check before any products where shipped.
Boohoo, House of Fraser and Missguided outline measures taken to prevent the mislabeling of real animal fur as fake
Dorothy Maxwell, House of Fraser's head of sustainability, went on to stress it was their responsibility to guarantee that all third-party brands sold in-store where fur-free, in line with House of Fraser's fur-free policy. "House of Fraser is a fur-free retailer. Overall it is absolutely our responsibility and that is why we agreements in place as part of the terms and conditions in place as part of doing business with our concessions and brands, as well as our own in-house brand supply chain to ensure that none of these breaches would occur. We take responsibility and we would never want to mislead our customers in any way which is why this instance has been deeply concerning to us."
Interim supply chain director at Missguided, Neil Hackett, agreed with Maxwell that fashion retailers needed to work closer with suppliers to irradiate this problem. "Sometimes just disengaging with the supply base is the easy option," said Hackett. "What I think is more difficult is to coach, guide and educate the supply chain about how to improve. That is the same with all of our policies. If we have an ethical issue, we do not just walk away, we work with suppliers to improve the issue otherwise you are just passing the issue onto someone else." Hackett added that Missguided has also opened a new office in the south of China to ensure it is closer to its suppliers and able to better monitor the production of its products.
"Retailers selling real fur as fake fur is not only bad news for the millions of animals suffering on fur farms, it’s damaging to the retailers themselves because it dents consumer confidence," said Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, who was present during the inquiry, to FashionUnited. "People need to be able to trust that when brands say they’re selling fake fur, it really is fake. We’re pleased that government scrutiny of this scandal has underlined the need for stringent checks to keep real fur out of fake fur supply chains, and we’re very encouraged by the steps taken by companies, like House of Fraser, to ensure that their suppliers and concessions adhere to their fur-free policies." Supply chains tend to be very long and complex, so it is of vital importance that retailers have the training and checks in the right places as well as random spot-checks to ensure compliance in their chains, added Bass.
During the inquiry Hackett also urged the committee to implement stricter commodity codes, in order to counter the risk of importing falsely labeled fake fur products into the UK. Although fur farming was banned in the UK in 2000 and EU regulations ban the fur trade of domestic cats, dogs, and commercial seal hunts, the HSI UK argues that the UK continues to import fur from countries which lack rigid animal welfare standards and is calling for a fur import ban. "Stricter fur labelling laws are urgently needed but ultimately animal fur has no future in British shops and wardrobes, which is why we’re calling on the government to use Brexit to ban all fur imports into Britain, closing our borders to this revolting, outdated and unnecessary trade," added Bass.
Photos: Courtesy of HSI and Sky News